Ushering in A New Era in Continuing Judicial Education & Dialogue

Posted on March 3, 2013

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English: The Official Seal of Palo Alto, CA.

Palo Alto, California (YenWire)

Ushering in A New Era in Continuing Judicial Education & Dialogue

Recently concluded earlier this afternoon was a fascinating judicial education program brought to California’s judiciary by the Alliance of California Judges. Produced by George Mason University School of Law, it was a part of their Mason Judicial Education Program concentrating on environmental economics, law and litigation for the first two days of the program.

The third day of the program was broken into judicial ethics and the law.  The first part went into recent expansions of judicial canons and how they might conflict with laws that appear to represent legislative intent represented by the code of civil procedure. Other changes that speak to competency requirements that was defined to better identify continuing education as well as when to report (and ones’ obligation to report) various violations that happen in the course of judicial business.

Today’s educational session was closed out with a panel of three attorneys titled “When the CJP Gets Interested In You” which was a look at the composition and process of CJP complaints and other cautionary tidbits surrounding the CJP (Commission on Judicial Performance) processes. What a layman might take away from today’s events is that being a judge is a venerable minefield that aggressively regulates both actions and words and that these jurists respected and agreed to most limitations as a part of the job.

There was a question of AOC involvement in creating the opinions and extending the Judicial Canons in a manner that made it a more dodgy minefield by ratcheting down on additional restrictions. I came away from the last part with a sense that the AOC was ultimately drafting ethics opinions that became judicial canons and law that became rules of court that seemingly impinged the power of the legislature, legislative intent and  on other rights and obligations a common man or even a judge should enjoy. Is it so bad that a judge discusses a case with someone other than a colleague? Questions like this are above my pay grade. Nonetheless, they’re questions that cause me to believe that we may restrict or threaten the behavior and free speech rights of our judges and justices a little too much.

What garnered probably the loudest round of applause was the announced departures of McConnell & Horn from the CJP where complaints of pursuit for procedural errors seemed to have hung their shingle and it appears the changes were well received by the group.  While classrooms full of mandatory training typically contain participants dragged in with the enthusiasm of having to attend traffic school, you could tell something different was in the air and on the agenda as about a hundred plus judges and justices sat forward and interacted with the speakers and moderators alike. Long breaks permitted their interactions with each other and the various journalists covering the event.  All in all, it appeared to be a very informative event well received with eager participants.

The event was concluded by a speech made by Alliance President & Judge, Steve White of Sacramento who carefully reasoned the need for the continued existence and expansion of the Alliance of California Judges as well as a need for a much larger presence in the political halls of Sacramento. He outlined the need for checks and balances in a healthy democracy and pointed out that California mostly lacks those checks and balances from the other two branches or an internal democracy. He demonstrated that while it appeared that the AB1208 argument was lost, most of the language was stuffed into a trailer bill that became law. And finally, he outlined that there are only two ways to deal with the issues of the oligarchy (my description, not Judge Whites) and that is either via a change to the California Constitution or via statutory changes that would return the judicial council to its advisory role leaving governance to the trial courts.

It appears that the Alliance might support one, the other or even a combination of both to solve the leadership vacuum in San Francisco. For the last day or so, we were  whispered rumors of that constitutional approach already being drafted and possibly quietly introduced to a few today. If it was, the poker faces of the Alliance leadership didn’t give anything away. This approach we’re told is also on its way to our office for our own review and discussion. Would democracy, something the chief is trying to educate children on today be so offensive to her that she would oppose changes to democratize the council?

I think the better question would be would she be willing to make a statement of ultimate hypocrisy by opposing democracy knocking on her door?

All in all, it was a well attended, fascinating and dare I say fun learning event with eager participants. Other comments from attendees made reference to the conference ushering in a new era in continuing judicial education and dialogue – a point that this author would not dispute.

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