January 5, 2012

Article takes a look back at the Chief’s first year in office

Last week, the Daily Journal [subscription required], carried an excellent retrospective by Laura Ernde on Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye’s turbulent first year in office. The article covers most of the travails of the last twelve months, including the challenges to the Judicial Council’s authority typified by AB 1208, the legislative effort to transfer more power to local trial courts. It also includes a discussion of the deep budget cuts the judicial branch has experienced in recent years, and criticisms of the overbudget and much-criticized Court Case Management System (CCMS).

Several points come through in the article. First, the Chief has learned a great deal in her first year. She had initially characterized the task before her by saying, “It’s not a learning curve, it’s a vertical climb.” But at the end of 12 months she told Ernde, “I feel more informed . . . Less like I’m walking into the unknown.” It is also clear that, to address dissension within the judicial branch, the Chief has sought consensus and has made efforts to make sure all sides feel they have been heard. Ernde quotes the Chief as saying, “I want people to feel they have a chance to give input . . . The thing about advice is if you keep getting it from the same folks it doesn’t move you forward.”

Finally, the article quotes Court-watcher and Santa Clara University law prof Gerald Uelmen as saying the Chief has authored too few opinions this year (she has written six) to know how her jurisprudence compares to that of her predecessor, former Chief Justice Ronald George. Ernde points out that the Chief’s rate of agreement with what Ernde terms “the court’s conservative wing”—Justices Carol Corrigan, Marvin Baxter and Ming Chin—has been 100 percent. But since Ernde’s article was published that is no longer quite accurate: the Chief authored a 27-page partial dissent from the Court’s otherwise unanimous opinion in California Redevelopment Association v. Matosantos, S194861, the redevelopment case.

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