March 29, 2011

Judges weigh in on AB 1208

We’ve been providing regular coverage of the ongoing controversy between the Alliance of California Judges on the one hand, and the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) on the other. As we’ve mentioned, the focus of that dispute is pending Assembly Bill 1208, which, if enacted, would shift substantial authority over court administration from the Judicial Council to local courts.

We therefore read with interest a recent email message that First District Court of Appeal Justice Peter Siggins distributed to California judges on behalf of several sitting and retired colleagues. In their message, the judges “lament the toll that these controversies are needlessly taking on the reputation and independence” of the judicial branch of government.

Out of concern that “the significant reforms that have solidified [the judicial branch’s] independence” will be unwound, the judges signing onto the email come down strongly against AB 1208, which they decry as an “unprecedented invitation to the Legislature to decide policy on matters relating only to the internal organization and governance of the judicial branch.” The authors point out that, by permitting the Legislature to address matters of court administration, AB 1208 is but the first step toward subjecting the courts to the will of political special interests, which it is the duty of judges oftentimes to oppose.

In addition, the judges declare it was “wrong” for the Alliance and its allies to mount a legislative challenge to the new Chief Justice within weeks of her taking office. “We should have given her an opportunity to lead,” they declare, “rather than assume she will perpetuate the status quo or ignore legitimate criticism.” Given the Chief’s stated intention to review the mission of the AOC from “top to bottom” and to expand the membership of the Judicial Council to accommodate new perspectives, it seems safe to say she intends to do neither.

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