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Bench and bar leaders emerging from a closed-door meeting to discuss possible changes to the state judicial system Thursday said there was broad consensus about the need to stabilize funding. But attendees said there was less agreement on a raft of other proposals thrown on the table by state judicial leaders, including extending judicial terms and reconfiguring the California Judicial Council. The meeting, held at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, was called by Chief Justice Ronald George, Administrative Office of the Courts Director William Vickrey and state Sens. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, and Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine. Most of the ideas have been kicked around at the Judicial Council for years, and all would require voter approval of amendments to Article VI of the California Constitution. Draft amendments released by the AOC on Thursday include provisions that would take away the Legislature’s control over the court’s budget, give the AOC control over all court facilities and give court leaders more say in creating new judgeships. “I think perhaps the most difficult issue is to maintain balance between the various branches of government,” said Dunn, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Transferring complete power one way or another might be nice in theory, but will not be practical politically.” Peter Siggins, the governor’s legal secretary, attended the gathering, as did Dave Jones, the newly elected chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Attendee Sharon Arkin, president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, said plaintiff lawyers want to see stable court funding, but might have concerns about the Judicial Council setting court fees, rather than the Legislature. “That closes the courthouse doors for people if filing fees are too high,” said Arkin. She added that as a lawyer she was “a little troubled” about proposals dealing with the State Bar, including a provision that would give the chief justice control of the State Bar’s appointees to the Judicial Council. Vickrey said some judges at Thursday’s meeting were “not in total comfort” about the proposed extension of judicial terms from six to 10 years. Other attendees disagreed with the proposed new configuration of the Judicial Council, he said. Another proposal would create a compensation commission to oversee judicial salaries and tie them to the raises received by other state employees. Yet another idea is to give the Commission on Judicial Performance the power to mandate treatment or suspend errant judges without pay for 60 days. On Thursday, all judges in the state were mailed a copy of the proposals and invited to submit comments about them to the Judicial Council, Vickrey said. Should any of the proposals catch fire and win approval from a majority of state legislators, they could appear on the ballot as early as 2006. But, said Vickrey, “If nothing else happens, I think this was a good step in at least having a joint educational program. If it leads to more serious discussion about doing things, then all the better.”

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