A Constitutional Amendment to Democratize the Judicial Council

Posted on March 9, 2013

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The reason  this amendment is necessary

California’s judicial branch has undergone massive change since the late 1990’s with the Lockyer-Isenberg State Trial Court Funding Act of 1997 and the Trial Court Consolidation Act (Prop 220) of 1998. The resulting bureaucracy that was created at the state level to oversee these changes is unparalleled. The Administrative Office of the Courts (commonly referred to as “THE AOC”)  has grown from a couple hundred employees to over a thousand.¹ Countless committees and subcommittees have been formed in the Judicial Council – a body that only meets a few times per year – to work with and/or oversee AOC staff.

The Chief Justice and members of the Judicial Council are charged with overseeing the bureaucracy that is the AOC and are constitutionally charged with making policy recommendations to local trial courts. Historically, this body that only meets a few times per year and had previously only dealt with defining the rules of court and approving judicial branch forms and has been mostly appointed by the Chief Justice was suddenly charged with managing a multi-billion dollar budgets as the ostensible branch leadership under a mantra of speak with one voice and non-existent dissent. Sadly, this has led to gross examples of mismanagement and an incredible waste of public funds. ² Today these bodies consistently expresses that they are both transparent and accountable but in reality, the Judicial Council is little more than a social club whose exclusive members have pledged their allegiance to speak with one voice beside the Chief Justice and don’t speak for either the trial courts nor the electorate they serve. 

The purpose of this constitutional amendment is to promote democratic reform, transparency and greater accountability through the election of council members that are not charged with speaking with one voice. An elected judicial council would be sent to San Francisco as trial court representatives and representatives of the constituencies they serve. Public monies are precious. People spending public funds should understand and appreciate just how hard-earned that money is. Public funds should only be spent when necessary and only in a way that promotes public confidence in those who are spending that money. Long time insiders and political cronies that are appointed by the Chief Justice, some of which are re-appointed in perpetuity, should not be the decision makers because the don’t represent the people or the trial courts. Experienced judges accountable to the people that elected them to serve should be the only decision makers. 

This amendment sets forth that to be able to serve as an elected member of the Judicial Council that a judge must have either 1) ten years of experience being a judge or 2)has completed a full term as a presiding judge in their court. These requirements ensure that these representatives have the experience and ability to understand the issues that they will be confronting. Their selection will be made via a basic democratic process and that they will be elected by a majority vote of their judicial branch peers. There shall be one elected representative for every 3.5 million people in any appellate district with a minimum of one elected representative for the smallest of appellate districts. Representation shall remain proportional to the population in each of the six appellate districts.

This amendment was crafted because repeated public calls for democratization of the judicial council have fallen on deaf ears for over a decade. In fact, a prior chief justice publicly declared that any effort to democratize the council would be considered “an act of war”

Democracy is the cornerstone of our Republic. Ask yourself, why would anyone in power within the judicial branch oppose democracy?

Overview of Appellate Districts & Proposed Representation

Appellate District One (1DCA)

5 divisons
20 justices
Serves the counties of: Alameda, Contra Cost, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco. San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma Counties
Total population: 8,810,346
Total proposed Judicial Council representatives per 3.5 million people: 2

Appellate District Two (2DCA)

8 divisons
32 justices
Serves the counties of: Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties
Total population: 11,419,674
Total proposed Judicial Council representatives per 3.5 million people: 3

Appellate District Three (3DCA)

1 divison
11 justices
Serves the counties of: Alpine, Amador, Butte, Caleveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba Counties
Total population: 3,835,738
Total proposed Judicial Council representatives per 3.5 million people: 1

Appellate District Four (4DCA)

3 divisons
25 justices
Serves the counties of: Imperial, Inyo, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego and Riverside Counties
Total population: 10,523,470
Total proposed Judicial Council representatives per 3.5 million people: 3

Appellate District Five (5DCA)

1 divison
10 justices
Serves the counties of: Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare and Tuolumne Counties
Total population: 3,511,951
Total proposed Judicial Council representatives per 3.5 million people: 1

Appellate District Six (6DCA)

1 divison
7 justices
Serves the counties of: Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz Counties
Total population: 2,514,350
Total proposed Judicial Council representatives per 3.5 million people: 1

Proposed constitutional amendment to Article 6, Section 6: Judicial Council

Existing Language:

SEC. 6. (a) The Judicial Council consists of the Chief Justice and one other judge of the Supreme Court, three judges of courts of appeal, 10 judges of superior courts, two nonvoting court administrators, and any other nonvoting members as determined by the voting membership of the council, each appointed by the Chief Justice for a three-year term pursuant to procedures established by the council; four members of the State Bar appointed by its governing body for three-year terms; and one member of each house of the Legislature appointed as provided by the house.

Proposed Language:

SEC. 6. (a) The Judicial Council consists of the Chief Justice and one other judge of the Supreme Court, three judges of courts of appeal, 10 judges of superior courts, two nonvoting court administrators, and any other nonvoting members as determined by the voting membership of the council, each appointed by the Chief Justice for a three-year term pursuant to procedures established by the council; four members of the State Bar appointed by its governing body for three-year terms; and one member of each house of the Legislature appointed as provided by the house; and 11 judges of the superior courts shall also serve as voting members on the council. They shall be democratically elected from among their peers and will serve three year terms.³

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¹It is virtually impossible to obtain accurate statistical data from the AOC. “Employees” may be counted as “contractors”. Lists of employees obtained from different divisions within the AOC will have different numbers of employees reported.
²One such example is the California Case Management System (CCMS) This costs taxpayers over a half-billion dollars for which they received nothing. Contracts were executed wherein the warranty periods had expired before the systems were developed or deployed. More money was spent for “enhancements” to correct the underlying problems that were keeping the system from being deployed. No one has been held accountable for this failure.
³The expressed intent of this amendment is to ensure that trial court judges serving on the judicial council be democratically elected and not appointed by the chief justice from their respective appellate districts based on proportional population. Eligibility: To serve on the judicial council a judge must have served as a judge for 10 years or completed a two year term as a presiding judge. Terms of office and elections: Elections shall occur for districts 1,2 and 3 on June 10, 2014 with the term of office commencing January 1, 2015. Elections shall occur for districts 4,5 and 6 on June 8, 2015 with the term of office beginning on January 1, 2016. Candidates may announce their candidacy to all sitting judges within their respective districts 150 days prior to an election. Each sitting judge within a district may cast one ballot for each of the corresponding number of judges set for election within that district. The TCPJAC will design the specific protocols for election, counting of ballots cast and announcing the election results. Results shall be promptly reported within 24 hours of an election