Gavel Grab

Editorial: CA Should Consider Ending Superior Court Judge Elections

Flag-of-CaliforniaIt’s high time for California to consider appointing Superior Court judges instead of electing them, says a San Jose Mercury News editorial. Naming names, it points to the examples of one “clueless judge” and one “smart one who telegraphs bias.”

The editorial says that “Through no fault of their own, voters have little basis upon which to identify the best candidate in a judicial campaign.” It adds, “And personality traits that may charm voters do not necessarily equate to great judicial material.”

The editorial notes that when the governor fills interim vacancies, applicants “are thoroughly vetted on a range of judicial qualities.” By contrast, it says, “Some attorneys who run in local elections would not make it through the review for an appointment regardless of political party.”

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In California, Continuing Impact From Court Funding Cuts

courtclosedIn California, a state that saw dramatic cuts to court funding during the recession, the impact on residents’ access to justice still is being felt — especially in the civil courts, according to an extensive KQED report.

“It felt like we were just second-class citizens — like it didn’t matter … just settle it for whatever they are giving you,” Maria Reyes said. Her attorney said she had a strong case against her landlord over dismal conditions at her family’s apartment. A San Mateo county judge, however, said a trial date couldn’t be set for  a year. Reyes and her family settled out of court for far less than they thought they could win at trial.

With four county courtrooms shuttered, civil trials in the county are restricted to one or two a week. And it’s not just San Mateo County where the cutbacks still are felt: Read more

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Efficiency Standards Not Sufficient to Offset Court Budget Cuts

State judiciaries are rushing to implement higher court efficiency standards in order to cope with insufficient budgets, but case backlogs are still plaguing the system. The Chief Justices of some of these states have been busy publicizing these issues, hoping to convince their respective legislatures to increase their funding.

Montana Chief Justice Mike McGrath reminded legislators in his State of the Judiciary that “small businesses and working people” will be the victims if the court budget is further cut. The Helena Independent Record summarized McGrath’s appeal to the legislature, where he outlined the state’s successful reforms. These include drug treatment programs and the Court Help Program, which provide alternatives to adjudication and prevent dockets from becoming unnecessarily cluttered. Still, with approximately 350,000 cases per year, more cuts threaten these hard-won successes.

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Kruger Easily Confirmed for California Supreme Court

Although California Supreme Court nominee Leondra Kruger, 38, had encountered some criticism earlier (see Gavel Grab), the Commission on Judicial Appointments voted unanimously on Monday to confirm her.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointee will become the first African-American justice to sit on the state’s highest court in almost a decade, the Sacramento Bee said.

Kruger, a California native, is a deputy assistant U.S. attorney general. She will join the court next month.

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Brown’s Nominee Would Increase Diversity on California High Court

KrugerGov. Jerry Brown has announced he will nominate Leondra Kruger, a U.S. Justice Department official who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, to sit on the California Supreme Court.

Kruger is 38 and would be the youngest appointee to the court in its history, a law professor told the Los Angeles Times. She is African American and would be the sole African American on the state’s highest court.

If confirmed, Kruger would join Brown’s two other appointees, who are 44 and 42, in bringing down the court’s age considerably. In addition they figure into Brown’s “emphasis on diversifying the state’s bench,” the San Jose Mercury News reported. Kruger would be the second African American woman to serve on the court. Read more

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Commission Advances Court Nomination of Stanford Law Professor

Cuéllar

Cuéllar

Gov. Jerry Brown’s nomination of Stanford law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a Mexican immigrant to the United States, to the California Supreme Court was confirmed unanimously on Thursday by the state Commission on Judicial Appointments. The nomination next will appear before voters on the ballot in November.

Cuéllar received a rating of exceptionally well qualified from a state bar evaluating commission, according to a Los Angeles Times article. When the nomination first was announced, it sparked attention for the statement it made about diversity on the bench (see Gavel Grab).

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California Disclosure Bill Debated in Legislature's Last Days

California’s Assembly is weighing a Senate-passed bill to require that political ads aired on TV for ballot measures disclose their three greatest original funders. A spate of editorials is calling attention to the proposal shortly before the legislature finishes its business for the year.

A San Jose Mercury News editorial was headlined, “Truth in campaign advertising should be the law,” and it said the bill’s powerful opponents include the Service Employees International Union and the California Teachers Association. The Los Angeles Daily News editorialized, “California campaign cash disclosure bill needs final push.” A San Francisco Chronicle editorial said, “Do-or-die time for campaign funding disclosure bill.”

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Big Money Judicial Elections Returning to CA Supreme Court?

An election in 1986 brought sweeping changes to the California Supreme Court in what was compared to “a 100-year flood,” because of its unlikelihood, and now according to At the Lectern, another event may not be so far away.

The article cites The New Politics of Judicial Elections reports co-authored by Justice at Stake and The Brennan Center for Justice detailing how judicial elections across the country have become more expensive and politicized.

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Solutions to CA Court Budget Crisis May Be Unconstitutional

The budget cuts to the state court system in California is having far-reaching ramifications.

According to East Bay Express, Alameda County is now charging high fees to look at court documents online. Some legal experts say may be unconstitutional.

“Any time you impose a fee or other barrier to access, that’s going to have some effect on those First Amendment rights,” David Greene, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the paper. The high fees affect “the public’s ability to monitor litigation and access the historical record,” he added.

Budget cuts over the past several years have slashed more than $1 billion from the state court system and have left many courts struggling to provide services.

“Sound governance necessitates the implementation of comprehensive cost-recovery strategies,” said Leah Wilson, the executive officer of the Alameda County Superior Court. “The new fees do help to alleviate the difficult budget situation caused by declining state funding.”

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has repeatedly asked the legislature to restore and increase court funding.

Meantime, access to justice will be a little more difficult for those in the Santa Barbara area. According to Edhat, two Superior Court of California, County of Santa Barbara clerks’ offices will close in October.

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California Citizens United Ballot Initiative on Hold

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling halting action on a state ballot initiative that would have asked California voters’ opinions regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010), the Los Angeles Times reports.

The provision, which would have had no binding legal effect, was contested because it would “not change state law.”

The ballot initiative is now on hold pending court review. Both sides agree that this decision means that the question will not appear on this year’s ballot.

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