Thursday, July 11, 2002
Policy Bars Retired Jurists in Private ADR From Bench Assignments
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Retired judges will no longer be able to serve on state courts as assigned judges if they take jobs in private dispute resolution, Chief Justice Ronald George said yesterday.
In announcing a new policy that takes effect Jan. 1, 2003, 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.
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 $512.76 a day for each day served—an amount equal to 92 percent of an active judge’s salary.
There currently are 367 retired judges in the program statewide. Judicial Council spokeswoman Lynn Holton said that of those, 65 to 80 judges also do some type of private dispute resolution, also known as alternative dispute resolution, ADR or private judging. ADR can be much more lucrative than an assigned judge posting for a retired jurist who lands a steady assignment with a firm.
A retired judge participates in the Assigned Judges Program for a year at a time. There is an annual application and renewal process that takes place each December. 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.
Earlier this year, the Judicial Council issued a new code of ethics for arbitrators governing, among other things, conflicts of interest and compensation. George said he saw “a certain interface” between that code, which took effect July 1, and the new Assigned Judges policy.
“I have heard complaints from litigants and lawyers about assigned judges revolving back and forth, having to make arrangements for the next day’s ADR assignment while on the bench,” George told the MetNews. “This mixing of money and public service causes a problem.”
George said he acknowledged that the new policy might force some retired judges to give up their places in the Assigned Judges Program and no longer be available to sit in superior courts. But he said he also hoped to gain some former judges.
“I think we will have some going in both directions,” he said.
Lassen Superior Court Judge Stephen Bradbury, president of the California Judges Association, said his organization has a committee looking at the new policy.
“At this point we are digesting the news release and hoping to see what the results might be in the numbers of retired judges who might have an interest in this matter,” Bradbury said.
The Los Angeles Superior Court uses approximately 30 assigned judges, court spokesman Kyle Christopherson said.
But Christopherson added that the court has tried to avoid asking the Judicial Council for assigned judges on matters in which a replacement judge is needed for less than six weeks. The court instead opts to rearrange its calendars or to use judge pro tems, he said.
Still, the Superior Court must rely in part on assigned judges to temporarily fill vacancies that have not yet been filled by gubernatorial appointments.
Several attempts are afoot in the state Legislature to regulate the private judging industry and the crossover between private judges and active or retired state judges. Earlier this year, Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, introduced a measure to require sitting judges to wait at least a year before taking a position with an ADR firm.
The one-year hiatus has been removed from the bill, AB 2504, and in its present form would require any sitting judge to disclose any contact with a private judging firm concerning post-retirement work.
Jackson yesterday applauded the chief justice’s action.
“I’m pleased to see this,” Jackson said. “It is so critical that the public believe in the impartiality of the judiciary. As soon as you add compensation, the appearance of a conflict is inevitable.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company