Justice Cantil-Sakauye’s challenge

Posted on November 14, 2010

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If you haven’t heard the news, we have a new chief justice. Now I can’t say I’m exactly thrilled about this new appointment and I certainly didn’t vote for her and let me explain why I didn’t.

Justice Cantil-Sakauye’s challenge is to reign in a kleptocracy that I’m not so sure she has a full grasp of. Her judicial council accountability committee is spoonfed both AOC materials and AOC recommendations. Recommendations of her committee are submitted to executive & planning and basically at any stage anyone believes she’s not towing the party line her committee would become instantly ineffectual. Well, that was at least until she was appointed Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.

Submitted for your consideration: One of the largest kleptocracies in the free world is a vast archipelago made up of 7,200 islands called the Philippines. I can’t entirely lay the blame for this on the Philippine people for at one time the Philippines was a U.S. territory and before that it was a part of the Spanish empire. Both Spain and the United States took advantage of the “mistiso system” of all the wealth and power being concentrated in the hands of a precious privileged trusted few that would permit the outside countries to better control the local populace. Now one could infer a similar governance model in todays California court system but at this stage of the game it wouldn’t be fair to do so. Things are not that broken, they simply need adjustment.

Even though the United States would eventually introduce democracy to the Philippines, it never dismantled the mistiso governance model so that the two governance models coexist to this day – a ruling class, being the wealthy landowners who own most of the land and businesses and perpetuate the mistiso system under the guise of a democracy protecting and working for the ruling class – and everyone else.

What the Judicial Branch needs is strong leadership at the helm. One that is going to consider a little archipelago half way around the world and steers the judicial branch away from the rocks of kleptocracy by instituting rigorous ethics and accountability standards.  Standards that will prohibit conflicts or even the remote appearance of conflicts from the bench, court executive officers and members of the AOC. Standards that uphold a judicial challenge for any reason with an expanded timeframe. Investigative standards that meet the rigorous litmus tests of both independence and accountability. Standards and enforcement to ensure that all are serving the courts for the benefit of all Californians and not just the well connected. Standards that cause her to call for the repealing of SBx211 and a method for the public to lift both judicial immunity and quasi-judicial immunity for violating both these rigorous standards and the public trust. Standards that tell the unlicensed contractors that they broke the law and will not be rewarded with new judicial branch business for doing so. Standards that tell people like Mr. Doyne that diploma mills are unsatisfactory evidence for you to be practicing your profession in the California Courts. Standards that require everyone with an income above 80 grand to execute form 700 and make them available on the AOC website as a condition of continued employment in the Judicial Branch. Standards that prohibit those with business with or before the court from making donations to judicial retention elections and/or requiring judges to announce this conflict of interest before any action involving any donor or even the appearance of conflict of interests commences. Standards that prohibit employees from making donations to a judges retention election. Standards that say electronic recordings of depositions and judicial proceedings across California is mandatory and that the court reporting is optional. Standards that say that if California’s fraud, waste and abuse laws are not good enough to guide the judicial branch in a 5 billion dollar spending plan in the midst of the deepest recession since the great depression then perhaps the department of General Services should be doing this work so that at least the appearance of legally enforcable and prosecutable standards exists. Quasi-judicial immunity with respect to a lack of public contract code for contractors working public works projects isn’t just bad medicine and a formula for disaster, it is a license to steal.

For an organization that requires proof to render decisions, the branch spends lots of time spinning the truth to suit political expediency with rather sinister results. Let’s face it, the kids for cash scandal that is playing out in Pennsylvania could have very well as happened here with similar results. Some might argue that it already does with these private, highly paid custody evaluators.  A judiciary that all but ignores the serious issues brought forth by the citizens we purport to serve, a judiciary who is so concerned about appearences that it lobbies for and passes a law to retroactively indemnify some from patently unconstitutional acts. A judiciary that believes that if we ignore the problems long enough, they might just go away.

Tomorrow is a new day. While we recognise that we may have some serious issues now, with a comprehensive application of rigorous standards, laws and reforms, we can eliminate the appearances of a kleptocracy in action and reign in some real budget busting that has yet to befall the judicial branch and its overly ambitious agendas. Budget busting that will fall disproportionately where it has before – in the trial courts.

And perhaps tomorrow a certain Filipina will introduce some common sense into the process, thus avoiding scandal unfolding on her watch and distance her administration from comparative analysis by future historians by doing a bit of housecleaning as she takes office. One can only hope at this point, for hope is all any of us have right now. Although I can’t deny that a groundswell of movement is afoot on many of these issues, many have said that it is up to the judicial branch to solve its own issues. I agree but first, I would recommend that our new chief justice rip a page from the Ford Motor Company playbook and make a study of Alan Mulally and understand that things only turn around when you can get people to tell you what’s wrong and everyone agrees on how to fix it – not how to cover it up.  

Discard the yes men.