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When Angela Bradstreet went to the State Bar of California seeking a policy prohibiting judges from participating in groups that discriminate against gays, she was told to go see California Chief Justice Ronald George. And she’s doing just that. On Tuesday, George said he plans to meet with Bradstreet, the president of the Bar Association of San Francisco, today. While not committing to any particular course of action, the chief justice said he wants to hear what Bradstreet has to say and then discuss it with the six other members of the Supreme Court. “It’s the court as a whole who will have to act,” he said. Noting that there’s a division of opinion about whether the state’s ethical canons already address the touchy issue, George said it’s always “feasible that the canons could be changed to make [their meaning] crystal clear.” But that, he said, would only come after strong scrutiny. “I know that we wouldn’t just off the top of our heads amend [the canons],” George said. “We would always circulate for public comment.” In a free-flowing discussion with reporters on Tuesday, George also raised the controversial concepts of possibly cutting court costs statewide by seeking legislation to allow more electronic court reporting and to privatize some courthouse security now provided by local sheriffs. Both would likely face extreme opposition in Sacramento. The discrimination issue arose when Bradstreet sought a meeting with the State Bar Board of Governors to seek its support for a new judicial discrimination policy, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, which allows the Scouts to exclude members based on sexual orientation. The policy pushed by Bradstreet had been drafted by BASF and unanimously adopted by the San Francisco Superior Court bench. But the State Bar canceled a meeting with Bradstreet, saying that any change in judicial policy should rightfully be made by the state’s top judicial officer. Bradstreet said the next thing she knew, George called her and suggested a meeting. She said she plans to ask him to find a way to either clarify the judicial canons or change them. “There seems to be a lack of uniformity in the interpretation of [the canons],” Bradstreet said, “and that is why I’m going to the chief justice to ask for his help and guidance.” Confusion reigns because while the judicial canons prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, Canon 2C specifically exempts membership in a “non-profit youth organization.” “It doesn’t say Boy Scouts,” George said Tuesday, “but the way it’s written you know that’s who they’re talking about.” George said a change or clarification of the policy � if any � would have to be on the recommendation of the full court, and following study. He also said the issue could come up if someone filed a complaint with the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance, alleging a discrimination violation under the judicial canons. Bradstreet said she will be joined at today’s meeting by BASF Executive Director Teveia Barnes and Jeffrey Bleich, who takes over as president on Friday. In discussing budget concerns Tuesday, Chief Justice George floated the possibility of replacing some of the deputy sheriffs who provide security at courthouse entrances with private security guards. “Many millions [of dollars] could be saved,” he said, “but, obviously, the sheriffs would probably resist.” Nick Warner, legislative director for the Sacramento-based California State Sheriffs’ Association, couldn’t be reached for comment. But Alameda County Sheriff Charles Plummer called the idea “pennywise and dollar foolish,” and said civilians aren’t trained well enough to protect the judges and others at courthouses. “There’s not enough discipline, there’s not enough leadership, there’s not enough good management,” he said. “And a lot of these civilians in these businesses have less than clean backgrounds. I don’t think the judges want that kind of atmosphere.” San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey said that if the chief justice wants to reduce costs, there are ways to do that within the existing scheme. For one, he said, counties could follow San Francisco’s example and have cadets — who are not sworn peace officers but are supervised by sworn peace officers — doing courthouse screening. There are no training costs, he said, and there are salary savings. A cadet gets paid about $31,000 a year, Hennessey said, while an entry level deputy sheriff earns slightly more than $50,000, while a top level deputy gets about $64,000. “So we’ve already cut the chief justice’s concerns in half,” Hennessey said. The chief justice said he figures privatization could cut as much as $12 million a year out of the annual perimeter security costs of $45 million. As for court reporter costs, George estimated that the state spends $173 million on court reporters’ wages and benefits, then turns around and pays them for court transcripts at the cost of about $25 million a year. He said he would like to see more electronic transcription. “Given the situation,” George said, “we could save a lot of money if we had a hybrid system” — including audio and video transcription. Officials with the California Court Reporters Association could not be reached Tuesday, but George would likely face a fight if he pushes the issue. In 1992, court reporters blocked a bill that would have allowed a pilot project on court reporting to continue statewide in 1994. The state’s Judicial Council later adopted rules of court allowing electronic reporting, but the court reporters association sued and eventually won when the California Supreme Court denied review of an appellate ruling siding with the court reporters. In court papers in that case, it was alleged that electronic reporting could save the state’s courts $20 million a year. It also was pointed out that the court reporters association “has been described as ‘one of the Capitol’s most effective single-purpose lobbying groups.” George acknowledged that power Tuesday, smiling as he noted the court reporters’ strong alliance with the plaintiffs bar.

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