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Angry voters push for a recall of a Sacramento judge. Congressmen scream for the impeachment of a U.S. Supreme Court justice. And judges of both political stripes are denounced for refusing to let politics intrude on the case of a brain-damaged woman. If judges feel the judiciary has been under attack for the past couple of years, they seem to have good reason. And the California Judges Association hopes to tackle the issue head on next week. The CJA will host an estimated 450 judges in San Diego for the group’s 76th annual meeting Sept. 9-11. The theme: “Independence of the Judiciary!” Sessions open to attendees bear defiant titles, including “Judges Under Fire: Access, Closure and Sealing vs. Judicial Independence” and “Standing Your Ground � Judicial Independence Up Close & Personal.” The siege mentality is driven home even more succinctly by the cover art for the conference’s brochure. Conceived by Erin Nelson, the CJA’s annual program planner, along with San Diego County Superior Court Judges Esteban Hernandez and Desiree Bruce-Lyle, the cover shows the bench under attack from not only a Democratic donkey and a Republican elephant, but also the media, church and state. It’s a rather radical statement for the CJA, but Nelson said it’s meant to convey that “judges are dealing with things from all areas.” CJA president James Mize, a judge with the Sacramento County Superior Court, says the theme is appropriate. He thinks politicians and special-interest groups have tried in recent years to make the judiciary “a whipping boy for the ills of society” by railing against so-called “activist judges” allegedly legislating from the bench. “People have to understand that judges aren’t sitting there making law,” Mize said. “What voters might be shocked to hear is that judges are constantly called upon to make decisions contrary to their own views, but are directly consistent with the law.” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry Friedman, who takes over as president during the conference, said judges have reason to be concerned, considering a rise in recall attempts, impeachment threats, physical attacks and the politicization of judicial elections. “All of these are worrisome,” he said, “and it’s important for judges to get the message out that our country and democracy depend on an independent judiciary.” One of the conference sessions will feature talks by two California judges who faced unsuccessful recall efforts: Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster, who angered conservatives last year by upholding the state’s domestic partnership law, and Orange County Superior Court Presiding Judge Nancy Wieben Stock, who endured the public’s wrath in 1997 after granting O.J. Simpson custody of his two children. Another session concerning challenges to the judiciary will feature state Supreme Court Justices Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Carlos Moreno, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and former U.S. Solicitor General Kenneth Starr, now dean of Malibu’s Pepperdine University School of Law. Mize said he hopes judges leave the conference reminded to “keep up the good work.” While they don’t have easy jobs, Mize says, “it’s the task we’ve undertaken.” He also said it’s up to judges to educate the public about their role as the third � and independent � branch of government. “Judges are absolutely constricted in what they can do, and the people don’t understand that governors and legislators have all the power,” Mize said. “Judges are an easy target for politicians.” The evidence bears him out. Besides the failed recall attempt against McMaster, conservative commentators and congressmen called for the impeachment of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy � a Reagan appointee � for citing international norms in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, the high court’s landmark 2003 ruling that abolished sodomy laws. Earlier this year, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, hinted at impeaching the state and federal judges � some of them Republican appointees � who rejected congressional efforts to keep alive Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who died in March after being in a semi-comatose state for 15 years. Even as recently as Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in a speech to students at Orange’s Chapman University, lashed out at “judge moralists” for dealing with issues such as abortion, gay rights and the death penalty. According to an Associated Press report, Scalia said he was “questioning the propriety � indeed, the sanity � of having a value-laden decision such as this made for the entire society � by unelected judges.” But lest it be said that conservatives have a lock on judicial criticism, Mize pointed out that California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a Los Angeles Democrat, had harsh words last month for a Republican majority of the state Supreme Court that restored Proposition 77 � Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s controversial redistricting initiative � to the Nov. 8 ballot. Nunez expressed disappointment at “this political decision” by the court and said it “shows why a small group of unaccountable, politically appointed judges should not be given the sole power to determine who represents California.” Hostile reactions to judicial rulings aren’t new, though. Disgruntled California voters in recent years sought to recall state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George and Justice Ming Chin. The two, both Republicans, were targeted in 1997 for joining in a ruling that overturned a statute requiring unmarried minors to obtain parental consent before having an abortion. There were also calls by DeLay for the impeachment of U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson. The San Francisco Democrat was faulted in 1996 for temporarily blocking Proposition 209, which outlawed affirmative action. All three kept their jobs. Even so, hostility to the bench’s independence seems on the rise. On one front are gatherings such as April’s Washington, D.C., conference on “Confronting the Judicial War on Faith” at which conservatives such as columnist Phyllis Schlafly and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore discussed “remedies to judicial tyranny” that included impeachment for unpopular decisions. On another are physical attacks, such as the one earlier this year that resulted in the deaths of Chicago-based U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s husband and mother. Judge Friedman, who sits in Santa Monica, said judges need to make the public and politicians understand that the judiciary has a vital role in the democratic process. “We are permitted by the canons of judicial ethics to engage issues that involve the administration of justice,” he said. “And it is only judges who can effectively speak out and protect judicial independence.” Edward Davis Jr., an Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner who will participate in a CJA session on media access to the courts, said the judiciary “just has a great big hole in it” if judges aren’t allowed to be independent. But the media law expert will argue that judges need to understand that they contribute to the problem when they close courtroom procedures to the public, thereby leaving the public to question their motives. “Access promotes scrutiny of the judiciary,” Davis said, “and that’s very good for the system. The more you close the doors, the more confusion exists.”

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