Friday, May 8, 2009
Court Commission Extends Deadline for Report Comments
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission for Impartial Courts yesterday extended the deadline to comment on its final report, which includes a comprehensive set of recommendations designed to ensure the impartiality and accountability of California courts.
The comment period has been extended 45 days to July 10, and the commission said it plans to submit its final report to the Judicial Council on October 23.
The draft report contains, and discusses, 109 recommendations adopted by the commission’s steering committee. They cover selection and retention of judges, conduct by judicial candidates, campaign finance and advertising, and public education and information about the judiciary, judicial elections and judicial candidates.
The most controversial recommendation may be a proposal that judicial candidates “be prohibited from seeking or using endorsements from political organizations.” Such endorsements have been increasingly used by candidates in Los Angeles Superior Court contests in recent years.
Another committee recommendation is that judges be required to disclose to litigants and counsel that they have received a contribution from an adversary that meets the state reporting threshold—currently $100—and recuse themselves, absent waiver, if the contribution exceeds $1,500.
Under the proposal, the latter amount would be subject to adjustment in the future. Contributions below that threshold might still require recusal if they raise reasonable doubts about a judge’s impartiality, or would otherwise be grounds for disqualification under current law.
Higher thresholds would apply for the recusal of appellate justices. California Supreme Court justices, for example, would have to step aside if an attorney or litigant contributed to their retention campaigns in an amount equaling or exceeding the maximum contribution to a candidate for governor, currently $20,000.
The commission also rejected suggestions that judicial campaigns be publicly financed, saying it saw no need to make such a drastic change in the system at this time. The commission said it would, however, ban direct contributions from unions or corporations to judicial campaigns, although such entities could form political action committees that would permit their members or employees to donate.
The commission—appointed two years ago by Chief Justice Ronald M. George in response to developments in other states, which the chief justice said were threats to judicial integrity—consists of a steering committee chaired by Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin, along with four task forces that studied particular subject areas.
Superior Court Judge Peter P. Espinoza and California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed were the local members of the steering committee.
The full report may be viewed at the state court website at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/jc/tflists/commimpart.htm. The Administrative Office of the Courts said that additional information is available from AOC project director Christine Patton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company