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SACRAMENTO � An inconclusive legal opinion released Thursday by the California Judges Association will probably disappoint members angry over a controversial proposal that would force judges back to the classroom. Attorneys for Munger, Tolles & Olson, hired by the CJA, said in a 21-page memo that the Judicial Council appears to have the administrative authority to require judges to complete 30 hours of continuing education coursework every three years. The proposed rule changes would also probably pass constitutional muster without violating the separation of powers doctrine, the memo continued. “We also conclude, however, that there is at least substantial argument that the rules are ‘inconsistent with statute’ and thus exceed the council’s constitutional rulemaking authority,” attorneys Bradley Phillips and Daniel Levin wrote in a memo dated June 15. CJA President Terry Friedman, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, released the unsettled opinion to members on Thursday, along with a brief statement saying the organization is committed “to maintain the highest quality of legal education in the nation.” “California judges wholeheartedly support the enhancement of voluntary educational programs for judges,” Friedman wrote. Friedman’s use of the word “voluntary” appears to be a pointed contradiction to the Judicial Council’s proposal for mandatory education. Friedman could not be reached for comment Thursday, and other board members either did not return messages or referred all questions to the association’s president. The council’s proposed rule changes have angered many judges who argue that court administrators have overstepped their bounds in suggesting that judges be forced to take ongoing classes. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Philip Gutierrez called the debate “very difficult,” one involving “close friends.” “I want to keep my discussions with them private,” he said Thursday. The Judges Association met Tuesday and Wednesday in Sacramento but will not take an official position on the Judicial Council’s proposal until its July 28 meeting. The council is scheduled to end the comment period on the rule changes on July 24 but has assured CJA leaders that it will wait to hear the association’s position before making any final rulings, said CJA executive director Stanley Bissey. The debate over continuing education came as CJA members elected new officers this week. Solano County Superior Court Judge Scott Kays, who ran unopposed, was elected president. A judge in the court’s civil division, Kays has served on the CJA board since 2004. Plumas County Superior Court Judge Ira Kaufman and Judge Robert Moss of the Orange County Superior Court were elected vice presidents on Wednesday. The association’s new officers will be sworn in to one-year terms on Oct. 8.

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