Metropolitan News-Enterprise

 

Friday, October 11, 2002

 

Page 3

 

Superior Court Judge O達rien to Lead California Judges Association in Uncertain Times

 

By a MetNews Staff Writer

 

Unprecedented change has swept through California痴 trial courts over the past five years, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory O達rien says he intends to make sure he and his colleagues are not left behind.

This weekend, O達rien takes the helm of the California Judges Association, an organization that is grappling with the fallout of the changes and is undergoing some transitions of its own.

Earlier this year, Constance Dove stepped down as executive director after 20 years. The judges selected Keenan Casady, a former bankruptcy court and Court of Appeal administrator, to succeed her.

To O達rien, that change presents a 渡atural opportunity to re-think the CJA.

展e can look again at our policies, at our committees, at our operational and organizational structure, and determine if we are on track, O達rien says. 的 will talk to the board about looking at the organization, to see if it痴 still the organization we want or if we ought to make some changes consistent with the new realities.

It is those 渡ew realities, more than a change in the top staff, that have O達rien thinking and talking about the CJA痴 direction.

Historic Role

Formed in 1929, the California Judges Association historically took the lead role in speaking for the state痴 trial judges and, to a large extent, the courts as an institution.

It was the CJA that created the Committee for Judicial Education Research, or CJER, to provide training and continuing education for judges. CJA sponsored court improvement bills. CJA drafted the judicial rules of ethics.

Virtually every judge in the state belongs, and they treasure their democratic structure. Members from constituencies such as the big trial courts, the small ones, and the appeals courts elect the policymaking board, and the board elects the president.

Although it lacks the constitutional status afforded the state Judicial Council, for years CJA was where the action was for courts and judges.

That changed gradually over the years, and drastically in the late 1990s.

A series of sweeping court reforms耀hifting funding responsibility from counties to the state, eliminating municipal courts, and this year making courthouses state instead of county property用ut the Judicial Council clearly in the lead on court issues.

的 think there is anxiety on the part of some members of CJA as to where we stand, O達rien says. 鄭s to the definition of our role. I think some of our members feel that there has been an encroachment. But I think there痴 an opportunity for a strong strategic partnership between CJA and the Judicial Council on most issues.

Court Reforms

O達rien預 journalist, a former candidate for the county Board of Supervisors, and a longtime Superior Court judge謡as a skeptic on some of the court reforms, like unification.

He says now the process has worked well, but he adds that he has learned a valuable political lesson: learning, lobbying and leading on behalf of judges cannot start in Sacramento, after the Judicial Council has already sent a bill to the Legislature. It must start earlier謡ith the Judicial Council itself.

的 have become convinced that we池e going to be more effective and more relevant if we address our concerns at early stages in San Francisco (where the Judicial Council has its headquarters) rather than reacting to policies and rules and proposed statutes after the fact, O達rien says.

His concerns are not merely in the abstract. O達rien and many of his CJA colleagues have focused squarely on a Judicial Council proposal to amend Article VI of the State Constitution.

The plan, which is not yet final and has yet to be sent to the Legislature, would be the final step in the Judicial Council痴 overhaul of the court system. The amended Article VI would crystallize the Judicial Council痴 role as the policymaking arm of the judicial branch.

典he Judicial Council is an appointed body, O達rien stresses, with most members selected by the chief justice.

鼎JA really is a grassroots organization, he explains. 填nlike the Judicial Council, our members are not asked to have statewide perspective. We are mindful of the needs and sensitivities of our constituencies. I think it makes for healthy debate. I think we may have more diversity of opinion.

Judicial Council

O達rien says many of his CJA colleagues believe that the Judicial Council should be elected. They have other problems with the proposed Article VI amendment as well傭ut O達rien declines to elaborate in advance of the weekend meeting in Newport Beach, where he will take the presidential oath.

He does say that the CJA may be weighing in too late, but he says he wants to make sure the organization does not make the same mistake in the future.

O達rien has been active in the CJA since he became a judge. He edited the organization痴 publications, chaired several of the committees, and has served for several years on the executive board.

典ypically, when I get involved in an organization I get involved all the way, he says. 鉄o it痴 kind of a natural progression.

He says he expects to keep a full trial calendar during his presidential year. He does not do many jury trials. This year he did three預nd two of them settled after a day.

If he gets assigned one this year, between visits to the Judicial Council and, perhaps, the Legislature, he may have to send it to another department. He insists there will be no problem from the court.

的 have the court痴 full support on this, O達rien explains. 的 have talked to the leadership and they understand. They know this is important.

 

Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company