Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Current and Former Judges Urge Defeat of AB 1208
Decentralization Bill Called Good for Los Angeles, Bad for State
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Court reform measures proposed by AB 1208 have been met with strong opposition outside Los Angeles, where the bill was endorsed by seven former presiding judges.
A total of 107 current and former bench officers across the state signed on to a “Dear Colleague” letter against the measure. A copy of the letter, sent out Friday which was obtained by the MetNews. Only one signatory, however, came from the Los Angeles area—retired Superior Court Judge Terry Friedman.
Friedman is a former assemblyman who now works as a private judge and holds a non-voting seat on the California Judicial Council. Efforts to reach him yesterday were unsuccessful.
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, told the MetNews that Los Angeles County “stands to gain a lot financially and politically” if the Trial Court Rights Act of 2011 is signed into law.
She predicted that the bill introduced last month by Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Industry, which proposes increasing administrative and financial autonomy for trial courts, will “do more harm than good.”
O’Malley contended “the bigger courts will be able to survive” without the centralized governance of the Administrative Office of the Courts, but the smaller court systems “are going to be left to their own devices” to make ends meet.
The jurist also said she took issue with the manner and timing in which the legislation was introduced. O’Malley explained that proposed measures are usually evaluated by Judicial Council committees and put out for public comment before the council examines the issues and issued a recommendation to lawmakers.
In contrast, she said, the Alliance of California Judges advanced AB 1208 to the Legislature with “absolutely no vetting” and “little-to-no opportunity for the branch or justice partners to give their opinions.”
O’Malley added that she was “worried about this setting a precedent for any group that just wants to go find a legislator and propose what it wants,” contending the proponents of a measure “ought to have the decency to let their other branch colleagues have an informed say” by disclosing the “background to it and the reason and need for such legislation.”
The timing of AB 1208 was also “disrespectful” to new Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, O’Malley argued, since it was “put in her lap 90 days after she took office.”
Cantil-Sakauye is “very open to some big changes,” O’Malley said, and the supporters of AB 1208 are “not giving her an opportunity to do her job” to shape the judiciary by pushing for reform through legislative mandate.
O’Malley further contended the measure is “not necessary,” since Rules of Court adopted by the Judicial Council in 1998 addressed the Legislature’s directive the prior year in the Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act for the judiciary to “adopt a Trial Court Bill of Financial Management Rights.”
She emphasized that lawmakers “didn’t say ‘no, you did it wrong,’ ” after the rules of court were codified, and suggested it was “disingenuous” to “look back now” and say the judiciary’s obligations had not been met.
The Santa Clara and Santa Cruz superior courts have opposed the measure, but the Sacramento, Amador, Mariposa, and Kern superior courts are backing it.
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Lee S. Edmon said yesterday that she has not yet taken a stance on the legislation. A court spokesperson previously said the executive committee is slated to deliberate the issue at a meeting April 20.
Former Presiding Judges Charles W. “Tim” McCoy, James Bascue, Robert Parkin Victor E. Chavez, J. Stephen Czuleger, Robert A. Dukes and William A. MacLaughlin have expressed their support for AB 1208.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company