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SACRAMENTO � Ten months after floating the idea, court leaders are expected to approve today a plan for seeking amendments to the state constitution that would give the Judicial Council more power over the state’s courts. But today’s vote is just a first step, and the plan is already drawing opposition from some legislators, and even some judges. “The Article VI discussions, once we return to the legislative session in January, will be very difficult,” predicted Sen. Joe Dunn, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who has been a strong advocate of the proposed constitutional amendments. “In essence [the changes] are redefining the relationship between the judiciary and the legislative and executive branches�. No political entity willingly surrenders any advantage it has in the political process.” The proposals include giving new powers to the Judicial Council and changing the way judges are elected and paid, as well as locking into the constitution authority currently granted to the council by state statute � including budgetary responsibilities, the setting of judicial policy, and the power to manage and dispose of property used for court facilities. Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, D-Norwalk, who authored legislation earlier this year aimed at forcing a settlement of a labor dispute in the Los Angeles courts, said he would need to look “long and hard” before ceding more power to the courts. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed Bermudez’s bill, AB 176, and the labor dispute between judges and law clerks has since been settled, but Bermudez said he remains concerned about “the loss of local control” over trial courts. “I would have to meet with trial court attorneys as well as labor groups before I consider signing on to this issue,” said Bermudez, who also leads the Assembly subcommittee overseeing the court budget. The plan to amend Article VI has also proved controversial among some rank-and-file judges who were apparently perturbed that the California Judges Association Executive Board was prepared to give its approval to the Judicial Council’s proposal without more extensive vetting from local members. The CJA board did end up approving the council’s Article VI proposal on Wednesday, but not before a majority of Los Angeles County Superior Court judges cast their own straw votes against the plan. Crucial to those judges was a long-standing concern that most of the appointments to the increasingly powerful council are made by the chief justice. Chief Justice Ronald George and others � including Dunn � say that’s not likely to change. “A pure, democratic system for the council I don’t think is a good idea,” George said. “We would end up with people winning popularity contents � not necessarily the most qualified in [court] administration.” “If we reduced the Judicial Council to primarily an elected body, how do we divide up the election of judges?” Dunn asked. “No matter how you divided it up, those judges are going to end up representing the constituency that put them there.” Los Angeles County Judge J. Stephen Czuleger, a Judicial Council member, says his colleagues’ concerns are “not necessarily a mistrust of the chief justice,” but instead simply stem from a desire to have a more representative body. He added that changes that have been made to the pending Article VI proposal � including a new plan to have the council’s trial court nominees come from regional committees � have convinced him that “the concerns I had have all been remedied.” THE PLAN Mitigating opposition and quelling concerns has very much been the focus of court leaders since the idea of amending Article VI was first aired at a private meeting of bench and bar leaders held at a San Francisco hotel in February. Since then, the amendments have been the subject of a Judicial Council committee, which sought input from members of the state bench and bar. Court leaders, including George, have met with the governor and with lawmakers to explain the goals of the proposed changes. Along the way, the proposal has morphed. A plan to expand the array of punishments that can be meted out by the state Commission on Judicial Performance was jettisoned, as was a plan to give court administers some voting power on the Judicial Council. The council is also being asked to seek amendments that would tie court budgets to growth in the state’s economy � a proposal first implemented for the trial courts as part of budget trailer language in 2005. Court officials also want to add language to “encourage” the governor to make judicial appointments within six months of a vacancy, allow Supreme Court and appellate court nominees to serve at least 24 months before having to run for re-election � and give that same privilege to trial court judges if the governor appoints them within six months of a vacancy. Court officials also want to establish a neutral salary-setting commission for judges and “require” the state Legislature to provide for a number of judges sufficient for adequate access to the courts � although there is no mechanism to actually compel lawmakers to do so. Finally, court officials would like to expand the Judicial Council’s membership by adding three more superior court judge positions and an additional nonvoting court administrator. George and Dunn acknowledge that getting the entire package through the Legislature may take some time. Court leaders are already hoping the Legislature this year will agree to put a bond before voters to fund court facility improvements, although Schwarzenegger told George last week that he may include court facilities in his overall plan to improve California’s infrastructure. George said if he had to pick a priority, it would be improving court facilities and making them safer for judges and the public. “Article VI is a long-term effort,” said George. “I would like legislative action in 2006, but whether that’s for the 2006 or 2008 ballot really doesn’t bother me.”

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