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State judicial leaders are expected to consider a tentative plan to give the Commission on Judicial Performance a broader range of powers to sanction errant judges short of removing them from the bench. Currently, the commission has the authority to privately and publicly admonish judges, publicly censure them or kick them off the bench permanently. However, it cannot suspend jurists. That could soon change. State legislators and members of the Judicial Council are slated to discuss temporary, unpaid bench suspensions and other proposed reforms in an invitation-only meeting with bench and bar leaders Thursday in San Francisco. The agenda also includes proposals aimed at giving the commission the power to order training or treatment for judges, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts’ director, William Vickrey.Insiders say both ideas are likely to go over with most judges. “In the past, the CJA [California Judges Association] has been pretty open to intermediate sanctions that respond to problems without draconian measures,” said Mike Belote, a CJA lobbyist. Edith Matthai, an attorney with Robie & Matthai in Los Angeles who represents judges in commission hearings, said she favors providing CJP with a broader arsenal of remedies. “There are some situations in which there should be more of an ability to figure out how to correct a problem and then get it corrected, which is to the good of everybody,” she said. Victoria Henley, the commission’s director and chief counsel, said the idea of giving the commission more remedies has been favored by both judges and their defense attorneys, who felt a wider range of options would do more to protect the public as well as ensure “the commission didn’t err on the side of removal” when a lesser action would do the job. Many other states have the temporary suspension option the CJP wants. Judicial conduct commissions in 37 states have the power to suspend a judge without pay for periods ranging from 15 days to two years, said Cynthia Gray, director of the American Judicature Society’s Center for Judicial Ethics. Henley said there is also support within the legal community for the concept of ordering additional education or treatment for judges who have addiction or debilitating medical problems, or who require a better understanding of policy or laws related to their office. The commission currently has limited power to order medical reviews and can recommend that a judge seek counseling or treatment, but has no power to make treatment compulsory. Last year, Matthai worked on legislation to give judges discovery rights when facing CJP disciplinary hearings. The bill was dropped, but the CJP is working on rewriting its own rules to allow judges more rights to conduct discovery and even de-pose witnesses, once charges are brought against them. But some lawyers and judges complain that the CJP is accumulating too much authority over judges, given that the Judicial Council also is slated to consider additional disciplinary rules for the commission. “It looks to me like an endeavor to increase their authority,” said James Murphy, a San Francisco-based attorney whose clients include several judges publicly sanctioned by the commission. Murphy said he particularly opposes suspending judges without pay. “A censure or public admonishment is an embarrassment enough,” said Murphy, who added that suspension without pay “is going to hit [judges] where it hurts them the most — right in the wallet.” According to figures from the Center for Judicial Ethics, a total of 19 state judges across the United States were permanently removed from office last year, and another 86 were subject to public discipline, including suspension without pay. In California, the CJP has removed only 20 judges from office since 1960, including three in 2003. Yuba County Superior Court Judge David Wasilenko retired last month as the commission was recommending his removal on charges of ticket-fixing.

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