Monday, February 3, 2003
Some Retired Judges Choose ADR Over Assignment
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Citing new conflict of interest rules, nearly one-fourth of California’s retired judges who sit on assignment on public trials have bowed out of the paid, voluntary program, in order to work in private arbitration, court officials announced Friday.
Of the 367 retired judges who presided over civil and criminal cases last year, 263 have agreed to continue participating in the program that pays $513 per day, the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts said.
The decline in the pool of retired judges used to alleviate court crowding is in response to new rules that forbid those jurists from also working as private arbitrators and mediators — lucrative positions paying as much as $500 or more hourly to resolve disputes out of court.
With California’s courtrooms becoming increasingly clogged because of unfilled judgeships and budget cuts, private judging has blossomed into big business. Many legal journals advertise the private judging services of retired judges.
Aggrieved parties seeking quicker resolution to their disputes are moving to private mediation and arbitration, and many of today’s employment and business agreements demand out-of-court arbitration to resolve conflicts.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George last July 6 announced a new policy that requires retired judges to choose either the public assigned judges program or better-paid private judging, also known as alternative dispute resolution. Friday was the deadline for choosing for this year.
George said he wanted to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest that could arise when someone on the official roster of the state Assigned Judges Program also receives pay for providing private services to litigants.
“The new policy also is designed to ensure that those serving in the Assigned Judges Program are in a position to give their full attention to their court assignments,” George said.
The chief justice told the MetNews at the time he announced his new policy that he had heard litigants and lawyers complain that assigned judges revolve back and forth, making arrangements for the next day’s ADR assignment while on the bench.
“This mixing of money and public service causes a problem,” he said.
George unveiled the new restrictions several months before the dimensions of the current court budget crisis became evident. Trial courts rely on assigned judges to help with a rising caseload, and the retired jurists likely will be missed as courts have less money for referees and other subordinate judicial officers.
Retired judges can sign up at the beginning of each year to be included in the Assigned Judges Program, under which they are eligible to be placed in a courtroom—for a day, a week, or often many months. Requests for assigned judges come from the superior courts and are filled by the Judicial Council, which directly pays the retired jurists for each day served at an amount equal to 92 percent of an active judge’s salary.
The new rules bar any participation in compensated private dispute resolution during a retired judge’s tenure in the Assigned Judges Program. Any involvement in paid private judging during the year will result in removal from the program.
The state Constitution authorizes the chief justice to unilaterally make changes to the Assigned Judges Program that he deems in the best interest of the public. That authority is distinct from his role as head of the Judicial Council. Unlike Judicial Council directives, which are issued only after a public comment period, the chief justice’s policies can be made without public input.
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Isabel Cohen said Friday she would no longer work as a paid public judge. She can earn substantially more privately judging, she said.
“It’s far more remunerative,” Cohen said.
In fiscal year 2002, retired judges sat for a combined 32,600 court days, the equivalent of 130 judgeships.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company