Monday, May 16, 2011
CJA Board Member Draws Fire Over Letter to Chief Justice
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge James Herman—a former State Bar president and member of the California Judges Association’s Executive Board—on Friday drew fire from several Los Angeles judges over his letter to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye last Wednesday on what has been described as false CJA stationery.
Members of the CJA Los Angeles Delegation—Judges Kevin Brazile, James Dabney, Mary Thornton House, Charles “Tim” McCoy, Joanne O’Donnell, and Zaven Sinanian—sent a letter to CJA President Keith Davis asking for an executive committee meeting to be convened by the close of business Friday to address Herman’s use of “modified (ergo faux) CJA logo/masthead art” to convey a message which “contradicted the bulk of our statewide membership’s positions” expressed in a survey conducted by the organization in late March.”
Efforts to reach Herman and Davis on Friday were unsuccessful.
Last Wednesday, Herman told the chief justice that the CJA survey results—which indicated a majority of the state’s bench officers are dissatisfied with the Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts—did not adequately represent the views of the members he represents in Santa Barbara, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties.
He reported that members from these areas are overwhelmingly satisfied with current branch leadership and are opposed to the proposed governance changes in AB 1208, the Trial Court Rights Act of 2011.
The Los Angeles delegation asked Davis to inform the chief justice that Herman’s communiqué “was unauthorized, misleading, and does not represent the views of CJA as a whole.”
CJA’s Point Man
CJA Executive Director Stan Bissey declined to comment on the matter, but in an email obtained by the MetNews, he told the CJA leadership that Herman was “out of line” and insisted “something needs to be done to show the rest of the Board that we CANNOT have 25 individual spokespeople as the Voice of the Judiciary.”
Bissey also reported that Herman appeared to have created the letterhead he used from art on the CJA’s website.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Susan Lopez-Giss said that she emailed House, who is a vice president of CJA and has been nominated to head the group next year, to express her concerns with the letter from Herman.
“It was my understanding that there was going to be a letter to go out to the Chief Justice” about the survey results, and the letter from President Keith Davis last Monday “was supposed to be the letter that speaks from the CJA,” Lopez-Giss said.
She explained that she felt Herman’s letter was “inappropriate” since “the whole purpose of that survey was to see what every judge in the state thought, not what counties thought,” and further, was “not in conformance with the rules of CJA.”
Rule 7 of the CJA Rules of Procedure, provides:
“Except by specific authorization of the Association or of the Executive Board, no committee, officer or member of the Association (a) shall act, or purport to act, speak or purport to speak for the Association; (b) shall publicly announce, publish, cause to be published or release for publication any statement or declaration purporting to be the intent, position or policy of the Association.”
Lopez-Giss said she emailed House because “I wanted to know what authorization [Herman] had” to send his letter, and “what [the CJA] was going to do about it.”
She added that she sent copies of the email to the other bench officers of the Los Angeles Superior Court because some of them are CJA members as well, and she thought “there are other judges who are equally concerned and frustrated.”
As judges, Lopez-Giss said, “we’re supposed to make sure rules are followed, right?”
She suggested that Herman could “write his own letter on his own stationary” without running afoul of the CJA rules, but in his letter, he “speaks for his district on CJA stationary,” and so “he acts as thought he’s speaking for the CJA.”
In her email, Lopez-Giss said she was “distressed” by Herman’s letter since the CJA had said it was going to remain neutral on AB 1208, but “Judge Herman chose to use the CJA platform to advocate otherwise.”
Lopez-Giss told House that Herman’s letter “has now been used in the press to pit smaller counties against Los Angeles” and insisted, “THAT IS NOT THE PURPOSE OF CJA.”
House, when asked about the email, said the CJA bylaws “are very explicit that only the president and executive director have the right to speak on behalf of the CJA, so it would be improper for me to comment at this time.”
Presiding Judge Lee S. Edmon said that she supports the actions of the CJA Los Angeles Delegation, although she does not intend to become involved in the matter.
“I think that this is appropriately handled by the CJA board and that’s what they are seeking to have done,” Edmon said.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company