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U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer will head a Ninth Circuit committee to explore federal sentencing reforms in light of Blakely and other shake-ups. Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Schroeder announced Breyer’s appointment Monday during her state of the circuit speech, kicking off the circuit’s annual judicial conference. “I look forward to working with Chuck in putting together a group of lawyers, judges, academics and consultants to move forward under his leadership,” Schroeder said. “Sentencing reform is now essential, and complete restructuring may well be the theme.” Breyer was appointed by President Clinton in 1997. During his time on the bench, he has developed a reputation as a friendly, even-handed judge who isn’t afraid of the limelight. Besides overseeing cases, Breyer has taken on other special projects, including an attempt to secure funding to finish building incomplete courtrooms in Oakland. In her speech, Schroeder quoted Breyer as saying that Blakely v. Washington, 04 C.D.O.S. 5539, which held that juries rather than judges must decide factors leading to upward departures, “knocked our ideas about sentencing into a cocked hat.” Breyer’s brother, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, has also been active in sentencing issues. In 1985, while on the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, he became one of the founding members of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and is credited as a driving force behind the current guidelines. Justice Breyer dissented in Blakely, and another dissenter, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, is expected to speak Thursday at the conference. This year’s theme is human rights, race and diversity, and several programs at the Monterey Conference Center are scheduled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. But other matters may be more pressing, including looming budget cuts and Blakely, which has seeded doubt and confusion among judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. Although district courts and appellate judges are divided as to whether the decision applies to federal sentencing guidelines, attorneys have already changed their courtroom strategies, and there’s a move afoot to have the Supreme Court clarify its decision. Some members of Congress have also discussed a legislative fix. Budget cuts are also sure to come up. Last week, California’s four chief district judges sent a letter to the Senate Budget Committee warning of layoffs if the 2005 budget isn’t passed on time. Besides service cutbacks, the budget affects projects like Charles Breyer’s. The sentencing study group was supposed to get going last year, but had to be put on hold because of a lack of money — which Schroeder said seemed “fortuitous” now because of the upheaval created by Blakely. “Once again, tune in next year,” she said Monday. Charles Breyer’s team will work with the American Law Institute, a group formed in 1923 to “promote the clarification and simplification of the law and its better adaptation to social needs,” according to the group’s Web site.

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