Thursday, April 21, 2011
Superior Court Executive Committee Votes to Back AB 1208
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court Executive Committee yesterday voted to back AB 1208, which proposes granting trial courts more authority over their administration and funding.
Presiding Judge Lee S. Edmon said the vote had been unanimous, with Judge Gail Feuer abstaining. Feuer’s husband, Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-West Hollywood, is a member of the Judicial Council and the chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
Edmon said the committee had decided at a meeting last month to poll the bench officers on their feelings regarding the measure introduced in February by Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, D-Montebello, and each member reported “overwhelming support” at yesterday’s meeting.
She said this outcome was not unexpected, although she has asked the members to have specific comments sent to her so that she can have “a better idea of how the individual judges perceive the nature of the problem.”
“It’s my job now to provide this information to the chief justice,” Edmon said, since “I fully expect the chief justice will value this information and use it for the branch’s benefit.”
Calderon said yesterday that he was “very pleased” by news of the vote, although he acknowledged it would be “a double-edged sword” for the success of his legislation.
Because of its size, Calderon said, the Los Angeles Superior Court is “an easy target” for opponents of the bill to claim AB 1208 would result in unfair disparities in judicial resources.
‘Los Angeles Whim’
Calderon said critics have been decrying the measure as a “Los Angeles whim,” and characterizing the court as “a big porker that eats up all the buns,” when this “couldn’t be further from reality.”
“The bill did not germinate, if you will, in Los Angeles,” he explained, but rather “came out of Kern County and Sacramento County.” The presiding judges from courts in both of these counties, as well as Amador, Mariposa, and San Mateo, have all reported their courts back the measure.
“We now have a fairly well-rounded, representative group of courts that have come out in favor of the bill,’ Calderon said, noting ‘we have large counties, small counties, rural counties, northern counties, and southern counties” which “demonstrates the interest in this legislation and the need for the Legislature to act.” He dismissed one criticism levied at the bill as improper political meddling in a co-equal branch of government as a “classic bureaucratic offensive,” insisting that “the Legislature created this issue in the courts because it was not specific enough in the first place” when it charged the Judicial Council to “adopt a Trial Court Bill of Financial Management Rights” in enacting the Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act.
The Legislature, Calderon said, “has the power of the purse” and “delegated responsibility to ensure equal distribution of state dollars among the courts” which led to “an unprecedented growth in bureaucracy.”
He insisted “the issue here is whether or not a Judicial Council that meets six times a year can oversee the administration of a 1,100 person bureaucracy, that is the fundamental question, and I hope to have that discussion in connection with my bill.”
‘Not a Panacea’
Former Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger, one of several past presiding judges who advocated in favor of the measure in recent months, said he was hoping yesterday’s vote “will be a positive.”
He remarked that AB 1208 is “not a panacea,” but “may help us move in a direction to re-establish a better relationship between the trial courts and the bureaucracy in San Francisco” as well as “help us put aside the differences that have been going on for a while.”
Former Presiding Judges Charles W. “Tim” McCoy, James Bascue, Robert Parkin Victor E. Chavez, Robert A. Dukes and William A. MacLaughlin have also expressed support for AB 1208, which is also backed by the Alliance of California Judges.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan, a frequent critic of the AOC and Judicial Council who is an Alliance director, said yesterday that he was “so proud to be part of this wonderful court, which has once again declared its willingness to stand for an independent judiciary by supporting AB 1208.”
Horan called on Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to “reconsider her stand on the matter, given that it is clear now that a majority of the state’s judges support the reforms embodied in the bill.”
The stance of judges statewide, however, is not clear. The Santa Clara, Sonoma and Santa Cruz superior courts have opposed the measure, and several Sacramento Superior Court judges have objected to the letter sent by its presiding judge to Calderon asserting its support.
A survey conducted by the California Judges Association at the end of March also showed members closely divided in their views on AB 1208. The CJA reported that of the 877 members who responded, 48 percent were generally or somewhat supportive while 45 percent were generally or somewhat opposed to the bill.
Much opposition also seems to come from outside Los Angeles. Last month, a total of 107 current and former bench officers across the state signed on to a “Dear Colleague” letter against the measure, but only one—retired Superior Court Judge Terry Friedman—came from Los Angeles.
Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Mary Ann O’Malley, a past chair of the Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee and one of the signatories, said yesterday that an additional 16 individuals have since joined in the letter.
She remarked that she was “not surprised” Los Angeles has voted to support AB 1208 since “my feeling is that this bill benefits Los Angeles to the detriment of the rest of the courts statewide.”
Court of Appeal Justice Richard D. Huffman of the Fourth District’s Div. One, a 14-year member of the Judicial Council who is stepping down from that body this year, has also spoken out against the bill in the past. Huffman contends that it will cause a “return to the days of separate judicial fiefdoms and less judicial accountability, and the very real possibility that residents and attorneys will experience very different rules, procedures and access from one jurisdiction to the next.”
He declined to comment yesterday.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company