Going about Democratizing the Judicial Council – Part One

Posted on August 2, 2012

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I’m sure that by now everyone has caught on to the concept that when you have 17 members of the judicial council appointed by the chief justice and you have two appointees of the state bar, which is an administrative office of the California Supreme Court and you have voting members of the state assembly and senate that rarely, if ever show up to judicial council meetings to cast their votes that the end result would be the same as if the judicial council did not exist at all and the Chief Justice was making all of these decisions herself. If these appointees have any aspirations at all in participating in the unprecedented, unconstitutional power grab that the JC/AOC has been engaging in all of these years, you play ball just like everyone else.

Obviously, we the people need to shake things up a bit.

Submitted for your consideration: Democratizing the Judicial Council

An analysis of effective representative democracy by JCW and our media partners

  1. The Chief Justice has a permanent 12 year appointment to the council as its chair. One element of democratization would be for members to select their own chair for the council each calendar year with a permanent seat on the council reserved for the Chief Justice. In this manner, the Chief Justice and the AOC would not be setting the agenda but the democratically elected chair would be setting the agenda. The chair would also be responsible for appointments to: The various vacant or soon to be vacant committee chairs and even the CJP.  This would serve to diffuse the current brown-nosing cronyism that permeates the council and would result in most of these old-timers like Huffman getting the boot permanently.
  2. Our two representatives from the legislature hardly ever and sometimes never show up to vote. A perfect example of this is Senator Ellen Corbett who has never showed up or participated in a JC meeting to our knowledge. The problem with the two representatives coming from the legislature is that they are both chairs of the judiciary committee and they are both attorneys and either aspire to being appointed as a judge (and you might know who these individuals are) or they own law firms or have bar cards and might some day return to private practice. Under these conditions, it is pretty obvious that holding a bar card and sitting on the council may not be in the best interests of the state legislature or the people of California. Maybe given the gravity of the situation, democratic reform of the council should start with the legislature ELECTING non-lawyer legislators to the council so that a real voice of the people might be heard. In essence, if you have or have ever held a bar card, you are ineligible to sit on the Judicial Council from the state assembly of the senate.
  3. Two representatives from the state bar should be elected by bar members and not appointed by the bar. In this manner, law firms that have an interest in the efficient operations of the council and processes has an influence in the outcome rather than, to use a modified version of a term recently used, “bobble-heads” that knows their obligation is to vote in blind allegiance.
  4. Much like the UN’s security council, the Los Angeles courts would have 5 permanent members that are peer elected. Why? Nearly half of the judges are in los angeles. This number is not too weighty to ensure that the LA courts run the whole show but it gives them solid representation in relative approximation to their size.
  5. The other 12 members of the Judicial Council would be elected amongst the judicial officers and court executives statewide, blending efficient administration with democratic oversight.
  6. The legislative election of a Judicial Branch Inspector General, appointed for 5 years who is charged with investigating and prosecuting judicial branch improprieties, such as processing whistleblower complaints. The limit of their power would stop at the executive and not prosecute judges. However, if they found judicial impropriety during an investigation, they would submit a complaint to the CJP who would not have the option of sidelining the complaint. They must  process the complaint as if they themselves made the charge.

Since no one has really talked about this in specific terms, we outlined a proposal that looking from the outside in would lead to the greatest degree of judicial branch transparency, accountability and oversight.

Please share your thoughts about our itemized proposals or make a counter-suggestion.

8/6/2012 – yes, we intentionally got our facts wrong in the first part of this article. The reason was to (at minimum) open a dialogue about the composition of the council.  And most of you didn’t bite……