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SACRAMENTO — Chief Justice Ronald George used the occasion of his 10th State of the Judiciary address Tuesday to lobby for more independence for the judicial branch, a feat he — ironically — can’t accomplish without the assent of the Legislature. George outlined for lawmakers a series of amendments to Article VI of the California Constitution that was the topic of a meeting of court leaders and State Bar officials in February. The meeting was called by Sens. Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, and Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana. The proposals include making permanent a new budget formula that ties the court budget to increases in the California economy. The formula was added to the 2004 budget trailer bill. The proposed changes include establishing a standardized procedure for adding new judges to the California bench, having judicial salaries set by a Judicial Salary Commission, extending the terms of trial judges from six to 10 years and making changes to the makeup of the Judicial Council, the governing body for California courts that is headed by George. All of the proposed changes to the state Constitution require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. They would also require approval from a majority of voters. In his address to lawmakers, George portrayed expansion of judicial branch independence as a “mutual goal — shared by all three branches — of ensuring fair and accessible justice for future generations of California.” George also used his address to make a pitch for other judicial branch gains that require legislative approval. Those include a “spot bill” sponsored by Sens. Dunn and Ackerman that would add a yet-to-be-determined number of judgeships to the California bench, and changes that would allow judges hired after November 1994 who are at least 63 to retire after 10 years and receive 3.75 percent of their pay for every year of service. Noting courtroom violence in Illinois and Georgia and Monday’s slashing of a defense attorney in a San Fernando courtroom, George also reminded lawmakers about the need to renovate and improve the state’s aging courthouse. Court administrators hope legislators will put a $6 billion bond for courthouse improvements on the ballot within two years. “An environment of insecurity and intimidation is unacceptable,” George said. “Courthouses must be a safe harbor to which members of the public come to resolve disputes that are volatile. Once courthouses themselves are perceived as dangerous, the integrity and efficacy of the entire judicial process is in jeopardy.”

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