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SACRAMENTO � As part of a last-minute compromise, the Judicial Council on Friday unanimously approved new continuing education rules that exempt trial court judges from mandated coursework requirements. Council members hailed the vote as a fair approach to a divisive issue that had drawn opposition from the California Judges Association and intense anger from some jurists. “We have found a way to bring our branch together,” said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry Friedman, the most recent past president of the CJA. “This is a great victory for the judges and the judiciary.” But outgoing state Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, warned the 28-member council that not forcing trial judges to comply with the new continuing education rules could hurt the judiciary’s public image at a time when jurists are lobbying for more pay, better retirement benefits and greater independence. “It could be the one and only argument” a political consultant needs, Dunn said, “to kill any ballot measure or legislative measure.” Despite his concerns, Dunn, like others on the council, said he would vote for the compromise in an effort to reach a consensus on the difficult issue. The Judicial Council convened Friday to consider minimum education requirements proposed by the governing committee of the Center for Judicial Education and Research. After several years of hearings and research, the committee had recommended that all superior court judges, subordinate judicial officers, executive officers, managers and certain court employees be required to complete up to 30 hours of continuing education classes every three years. California is one of just a handful of states that does not require its judges to take ongoing coursework, although many jurists do so voluntarily. The recommendations drew dozens of angry responses from judges. They complained that the Judicial Council had no legal authority to mandate continuing education, that the proposal threatened judicial independence and that it would weaken the quality of existing voluntary classes. Several prominent judicial educators even threatened to quit the California Judges Association if the organization did not fight the proposed rules. CJA leaders did vote to oppose any mandatory language although they also offered to support establishing voluntary standards. Ongoing negotiations between the CJA and Judicial Council leaders appeared to lead to the alternative proposal that Administrative Office of the Courts Director William Vickrey unveiled publicly Friday morning. The amended proposal, put into print Thursday evening, appears to mirror a compromise offered by the CJA earlier this month. It drops the requirement that judges complete 30 hours of continuing coursework and replaces it with language saying they will be “expected to” take such classes. Subordinate judicial officers and court executives will still be required to take 30 hours of classes in a three-year cycle, as proposed under the original rules. Managers and supervisors will have to complete 12 hours of education every two years, and court personnel must take eight hours every two years. The new proposal also requires the Judicial Council to track judges’ participation in continuing education, based on aggregate numbers submitted by each county’s presiding judge. A state audit released earlier this year criticized the judiciary for not keeping track of judges’ required coursework. “Once this data is acquired over the next few years I think we’re going to find that judges not only met the expectations but far exceeded the expectations for judicial education,” said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy Jr. By approving the alternative rules, the Judicial Council likely avoided a legal challenge that would have raised prickly questions, not only about which court had jurisdiction to hear the case but what powers the judiciary leadership has to create and enforce rules. Members said they also hoped to quell what one judge called “over-the-top rhetoric” that had tinged the debate. “This appears to be a solution that recognizes the issues on both sides of the discussion,” said Solano County Superior Court Judge Scott Kays, president of the CJA. Chief Justice Ronald George was on vacation Friday and did not attend the council’s meeting. Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter, a council member, recused himself from Friday’s vote on the grounds that he may have had to rule on a suit challenging the original proposal.

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