Thursday, September 17, 2009
Horan to Help Lead Group Seeking More Local Court Autonomy
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan has been named an interim director of a fledgling judges’ organization that is openly challenging the state’s judicial hierarchy.
Horan, the only local judge represented in the initial leadership of the Alliance of California Judges, said he is recruiting colleagues for the group in order to “provide an effective voce for those who feel that they have not had that effective voice up until now” and to “assist the judicial branch in democraticizing the branch decision-making.”
Horan spoke to the MetNews from his home yesterday, on the day of the first statewide judicial holiday declared by the Judicial Council in a cost-saving move. While the compulsion of court closures on a statewide basis was the immediate impetus for the formation of the group, he explained, a broader issue is at work.
“Over the years, power has devolved away from the 58 individual counties and away from trial judges and is now rested firmly within the triumvirate of the [Administrative Office of the Courts], the Judicial Council and the chief justice of California,” he said.
Horan emphasized that the ACJ does not consider itself a competitor of the California Judges Association.
“They are what they are,” he explained. “We are not suggesting that anybody cease being a member of CJA. We hope to provide a perspective that is not given full voice sometimes by CJA.”
Horan said the powers and prerogatives of local courts have been shifting to the “triumvirate” over a period of years.
Part of the problem was trial court unification, which he said made it easier “for this hierarchy up there to more easily manage courts” but failed to produce promised cost savings.
“Unification was but one cog in the machine,” he explained, lumping in statewide trial court funding, the transfer of control of court buildings from the counties to the judicial branch, and efforts to obtain uniformity of employee benefits and court rules.
“We”—meaning the ACJ—“stand for [sending] authority back to the counties, individual independence of elected judges, and devolution of power away from the AOC,” Horan said. He said he also wants to see the California Constitution amended so that the judges may elect some of the judicial members of the Judicial Council, all of whom are currently appointed by the chief justice.
The ACJ was formed last week in San Diego, where the CJA was meeting. Horan said the group is currently signing up members, who are not being charged dues for now, and will put together a more permanent structure once it gauges the extent of its support.
Horan said he has not felt any pushback over his activities. While George “has made statements indicating displeasure with any debate that extends into the public, because he thinks the branch needs to speak with one voice,” he said he has not heard from the chief justice about the new venture, “and I don’t expect I will.”
Horan, 58, has been a judge since 1988, having started out on the Glendale Municipal Court before being elevated to the Superior Court. He was a prosecutor before that, first with the city attorney’s office in Santa Monica and then with the District Attorney’s Office.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company