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Chief justice: 'It's been a hammer over my head for the last year'

January 11, 2012 |  7:06 am

Tani Cantil-Sakauye Kirk McKoy Los Angeles TimesSeveral weeks after Tani Cantil-Sakauye took the oath as California's 28th chief justice on Jan. 3, 2011, Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) introduced a bill to strip the state Judicial Council, which she heads, of much of its power to run the judicial branch. AB 1208, dubbed the Trial Court Rights Act of 2011, was applauded by many trial judges who believe the centralized branch has robbed them of the authority and resources to run their courts as they see fit. The bill would upend sweeping changes California has made to the courts over the last 15 years.

Calderon held the bill last year, but it is up again and must pass out of the Assembly by the end of January to remain alive.

Cantil-Sakauye spoke Friday to The Times' editorial board on a number of topics, including the Calderon bill and the Alliance of California Judges, a group composed of trial and appellate jurists critical of the Judicial Council.

Below are audio clips and partial transcripts of that discussion (see Monday's and Tuesday's posts for the chief justice's discussion about the death penalty).

Listen: Trial Court Rights Act

I look at Calderon's bill and I say to myself several things.

First, substance. It seeks to undermine and fragmentize 15 years of work for the judicial branch. 15 years of work went into making the branch what it is today. Longer than that but it's only been in existence 15 years. And I want to say to that, three governors, many chiefs -- two or three chiefs -- multiple legislators and voters decided that it was a good idea to make the branch a separate institution in terms of its budget and its buildings and to unify the judges for efficiencies, and to save money.

And so this Calderon bill disregards that and says well we're going to take away Judicial Council authority ... and we're going to give authority basically for any statewide initiative to as few as two courts to veto a statewide initiative.

So the substance of the bill is to gut and fragmentize the judicial council. The statewide policymaking body.

But also important to me, and maybe only to me, but the complaint that Calderon has, essentially, is to the last 15 years. But in 15 years -- never heard a peep from him about these kinds of entrenched systemic governance problems with the branch.

But I get 47 days into office and all of a sudden, we need to change and turn around on a dime. Any discussion with me? None. Any warning? None. Any "Let's work this out?" None.

And I went to see him on numerous occasions, saying, "Look. You may have difficulties. I understand that. I'm coming in new; I'm taking this over; I'm going to look at this; we're going to make changes; I want input from the judges. You know we are an organization. We have a legacy of working together to make change. That's what we do; that's how we try to do it before we come to you, if we need to come to you we will. But let us work it out."

No. It's been a hammer over my head for the last year to take away the authority of the Judicial Council. On budget, on planning, on trial court autonomy.

Trial courts now get their share of the budget. When it goes to a trial court, that's up to the PJ, the court executive officer, and that presiding judge's executive team as to how it is they wish to disperse that money and use it in the community....

What explanation did Calderon give for not discussing the issue with her before introducing the bill?

Listen: No discussion with Calderon

 I've had no explanation. I can't say. That would be a good question to ask him.

How is the relationship between the Judicial Council and the Alliance of California Judges?

Listen: Relationship with the Alliance

I would say the same as they've always been.

I think they've improved in the sense that I've actively asked people to apply to committees and advisory committees, and I've asked them to identify yourself so I could put you on so you couldn't say you never appoint me.

So I'm happy to say that on one of our most influential and powerful committees, the Advisory Committee on Accountability and Efficiency of the [Administrative Office of the Courts], I purposely went out and selected a director of the alliance to serve on that committee. We also have our Technology Advisory Committee, and we purposely went out and sought a very qualified appellate justice, [Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Thomas] Hollenhorst, who's also an alliance member.

So to me I'm happy to hear the information, I'm happy for the debate, and if that moves us forward, I hope so. But I haven't changed, and I'm still here, and I'm still accepting those appointments and looking to appoint people who want to be part of the solution.

Thursday: The courts' budget, cuts and harm to the justice system.

--Robert Greene

ALSO:

"Worst possible option"

Senator demands apology for assemblyman's comments on the chief justice

Profile: Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye

Photo: California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye speaks with the Los Angeles Times editorial board on  Jan. 6. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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