Senator Seeks Cameras In Fed. Courts

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, poised to become Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, is already making increased court transparency a priority. The Des Moines Register reports that the senator “… is again encouraging the U.S. Supreme Court to add cameras in the courtroom.” His encouragement comes in the wake of U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts dedicating his year-end “state of the courts” report on technology, but without even mentioning cameras in the courtroom.
“In his year-end report, Chief Justice Roberts rightly promotes how the courts have embraced new technology,” Grassley is quoted as saying in the report from the Associated Press. “Unfortunately, though, the courts have yet to embrace the one technology that the founders would likely have advocated for — cameras in the courtroom. The founders intended for trials to be held in front of all people who wished to attend.”
The senator has introduced legislation to force the courts to allow cameras and says he will do so again. See the story here: Grassley: Put cameras in the Supreme Court


Even China Looks For Civil Court Reform?

For those wondering about transparency in American courts and the demise of our “rule of law” culture, given the rationing of justice in civil courts, there’s a great report in Foreign Policy magazine about China. It seems reform is afoot, and Fordham University Professor Carl Minzner notes that the Chinese “… have made judicial transparency a priority, with some provincial court authorities striving to make all of their verdicts available online. Central authorities have partially revived concepts of judicial professionalism that had gone into eclipse during the later years of Hu Jintao’s administration. One example is the attempt to separate out legal disputes and court cases from the poorly-defined petitioning channels many citizens use in practice to resolve their disputes.”
He also adds that “… authorities are experimenting with insulating judges from interference by local officials. Pilot reforms in six provinces remove control over the funding and appointment of local judges from the hands of county authorities, vesting it instead with provincial courts. This does not mean a repudiation of any core policies. Far from it. Beijing’s commitment to maintaining social stability above all else remains unchanged. But central authorities appear to be gambling that recentralizing control over the court system will help curb social dissatisfaction by combating incestuous relationships between local judges and government officials that are the source of many citizen grievances.”
Compare and contrast here: What Does China Mean By ‘Rule of Law’?

Famous Judge Ito May Not Seek Re-Election

The Metropolitan News Enterprise is posting an “unconfirmed report” that L.A. Superior Court Judge Lance Ito, of O.J. Simpson trial fame, has not filed to seek another term. If that’s true, it will give the famous judge another chance to comment on the justice system; he’s not been shy in the past.
For example, in 2012 Ito made written comments accusing the state’s Administrative Office of Courts (AOC) of having adopted a “circle the wagons mentality,” when what it should to is to acknowledge that it “has been run in a deceptive, vindictive and manipulative manner” and get about the business of reform (from the MetNews).
The website has a rundown of current court races, with about 30 candidates participating in 11 elections. Thursday was the first deadline for filing to seek a judicial seat, but the election will not be wet until next week because an automatic deadline extension went into effect for about a dozen seats where no incumbent filed for re-election.
See the report and a rundown on who is running at MetNews.

Judicial Friction Story in Sacramento Bee

Dan Walters, who covers courts for the Sacramento Bee, has an interesting background story about continuing friction in the California judiciary. He offers a good history of the major players, writing that “… when Tani Cantil-Sakauye became California’s chief justice nearly three years ago, she inherited a nasty judicial squabble from her polarizing predecessor, Ron George.”
Walters reminds us that “… George had persuaded the Legislature to have the state assume financial and operational control of what had been a locally managed court system, thus making him the boss of an immense state agency [and] many local judges resented what they saw as George’s autocratic style of governance through a State Judicial Council and an Administrative Office of the Courts that he controlled, dubbing him “King George.”
But the reporter, who has the personal background to back his opinion, also says that “… resentments flared into open political warfare with the creation of the anti-George Alliance of California Judges, and the infighting intensified when a chronic state budget crisis squeezed the courts.” It’s a timely story making the rounds as the Office of Courts considers opening some of its committee meetings, where most of the actual decisions are made. Read it here.

2014 Judicial Election Cycle Gets Started

We don’t yet know how many Los Angeles Superior Court judgeships will be up for election next year, but at least four candidates are hoping to take the familiar path from the District Attorney office to the bench. From various reports and announcements, they include Alison Matsumoto Estrada, Stacy Okun-Wiese, Donna Hollingsworth Armstrong and Andrew Cooper.
Typically, judicial careers in L.A. Superior Court begin with an appointment by the governor and few judges face contested elections. Some critics have suggested this is because the “culture” is that anyone challenging a seated judge can face negative reactions in court, both from that judge and even others. The early announcements for next year’s race suggest a more robust election cycle, and budget challenges are already a top issue.
Read about Andrew Cooper at MetNews here and about the other three candidates and find some campaign links here.

In Sacramento, New Presiding Judge Confronts ‘Crisis’

“Keeping the doors open will be a major accomplishment in and of itself,” says the incoming presiding judge of the Sacramento Superior Court in an interview with The Courthouse News. The story notes that Judge Robert Hight says he feels he hopes “… to make good use of hard times [because] a good crisis is always the best place to make major changes.”
“The biggest challenge is clearly budget and how can we provide a level of services the public deserves given the budget that we have,” Hight told the CN. Along with the judges comments, the story offers a good brief history of several court trends, dating back to the days of the initial round of case management system backlogs, circa 2007.

New Group Will Advocate For California Courts

A new non-profit group has been formed to, in the words of its press release this week, “… increase awareness about the relationship between adequate state funding for the administration of justice – at the state and local level – and the ability to deliver equal access to justice for all.” The “Foundation for Democracy and Justice” also says it plans to educate the public about the branches of government, with particular attention paid to the role of the judiciary.
In the wake of cutting a billion dollars from the courts budget over the last half-decade, many critics of the cuts have noted that some lawmakers have forgotten that the judiciary is an equal branch of government. The new organization’s initial membership seems to include fairly prominent civic leaders and some high-profile attorneys. 
California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and state Attorney General Kamala Harris were announced as “honorary directors” of the group. The Sacramento Bee has a story here.

Gov. Brown Hires For Superior Court Positions

A few new people will be coming to work for the state’s superior court system soon, but as regular readers have no doubt realized it’s not support staff. Announced is another round of judicial hires for the state-mandated $178,789-per-year jobs. Notable among this round of appointments is Sunil R. Kulkarni, who the South Asian Bar Association identifies as the first South Asian American judge ever appointed in Northern California, and an actual Republican for the San Diego Superior Court bench (most Brown-selected judges are Democrats).
California actually elects its judges. But typical judicial careers begin with an appointment by the governor to fill an open bench. Those chosen rarely face election challenges. The Republican judge in the San Diego court has served as a deputy public defender at the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office, Office of the Primary Public Defender since 1994 and has been an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law since 2003.
Details and background from the new judges abounds at the California Newswire.

HuffPo Blogger Hits L.A. Courts Pretty Hard

Editor’s Note: The CCM will not be updated Monday due to the Labor Day holiday. See you Tuesday!
Writer Steve Bevilacqua is not too happy with the L.A. courts and much prefers the no-frills justice handed out by Judge Judy. In a Huffington Post blog, he first wonders “… is a Hollywood soundstage the best place to find true justice in Los Angeles? Based on my legal experience, both real and televised, the answer is a resounding yes.” Then he writes that “… our court system is in the hands of self-serving clowns who care about nothing more than their own performance record. Looking at history, I suppose this isn’t anything new, but in this age of access and information, maybe it’s time the courts tried a little harder to fulfill their original purpose of setting things right.”
After outlining his ongoing legal battles stemming from getting hit by a car, he adds that “amazingly enough, in one extremely loud afternoon, my fiasco was set right by the modern-day Solomon known as Judge Judy. The actual court system spent months squeezing every technicality in their agonized efforts to send me to prison at the expense of the obvious truth. Judge Judy was direct and ferociously sensible.”
It’s a compelling story, but you wonder if he knows the small claims court in Santa Monica, which was the basis for all those People’s Court shows,  actually just closed?

Appeals Court Rules On Long-Standing Appeal Of Deputy Dismissal

A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy (turned security officer) in a labor case that began with a firing in 1990 and illustrates how “old” information can surface on the Internet. Among the issues was if employment records obtained online could be considered the same as “non-public” records and if the California Science Center acted property when it discovered previous information.
In effect, the employee explained his dismissal from the sheriff’s department in way, but it later surfaced that there was more possible wrongdoing involved. That came to light in 2007, years after the incident and after the employee had been working and received promotions. The worker’s legal team argued that online information should not be allowed for consideration because it was obtained without a waiver or other legal means for obtaining employment records. The Science Center countered that it got the information from the Internet.
You can read about California Science Center v. State Personnel Board (Arellanes), 13 S.O.S. 4282 at the MetNews here.