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Retired judges in California can no longer work for two masters. On Wednesday, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George announced a new rule barring retired judges from doing private dispute resolution work if they want to participate in the state’s assigned judges program. The news is a significant change to the program, and could have a big impact on the state court system, the burgeoning field of alternative dispute resolution, and the livelihood of retired judges. “There are judges that cannot simply forgo one for the other,” said Timothy Rabun, CEO of Judicial Dispute Resolution. “The reality is most of the retired judges need both incomes simply to survive.” According to Chief Justice George, the new rule is designed to eliminate any perceived conflict of interest resulting from retired judges who work in both the private and public sector. “It has come to my attention that there have been complaints and negative perceptions about persons going back and forth between the two roles,” said George. “I think it’s both a question of the perception of justice on the part of the public, and also ensuring that the energy and attention of assigned judges are given to their court assignments.” There are currently 367 retired judges in the assigned judges program who hear cases in trial and appellate courts throughout the state. The program, formalized in the 1980s under Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas, helps trim the court’s excess caseload as well as provide a means to cover for judicial vacancies. According to the Judicial Council of California, assigned judges provided more than 32,600 days of assistance to the courts in 2001 — the equivalent of 130 judicial positions. Retired judges receive $515 a day, plus expenses, for their work in the program. By contrast, retired judges that arbitrate or mediate cases privately typically charge anywhere from $300 to $600 an hour. Some of the most popular retired judges charge $10,000 a day for their private dispute resolution services. “As far as the numbers go, if you have work it’s beneficial to be in the private sector because you make more money,” said Paul Fritz, a mediator and founder of Creative Dispute Resolution. “On the other hand, many days you simply don’t have any work so you’re making zero.” While it’s too early to tell whether the rule will prompt more judges to choose the private or public path, said Fritz, the impact on both fields will be negative. “On the one hand it may have the possibility of robbing the court system of the most talented jurists. On the other hand it has the unfortunate side-effect of disengaging some of the most popular retired judges who are engaged in private judging.” The new rule, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2003, forces retired judges applying for the state program to give up private dispute resolution work for the entire calendar year. Roy Wonder, the chair of the California Judges Association’s retired judges committee, said he has sent a memo asking for feedback from all the committee’s members. He intends to craft a response based on the feedback so that the CJA can respond to the Judicial Council appropriately. But the Judicial Council said the decision was final. “Regardless of the reaction, since I am given the sole responsibility to make assignments, it’s my responsibility to make sure the system is viewed as just,” said Chief Justice George. “I am sure that some persons will be quite disappointed and that others will take it in stride.”

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