Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CJ George to Speak

California Chief Justice Ronald M. George reflected on his accomplishments and challenges of the judicial branch during his final address to the State Bar of California at its annual meeting last Saturday.

The Chief’s full remarks are available here at the Met News.  Some highlights . . .

Historic Date.  “The date of my announcement—July 14—was intended to allow sufficient opportunity for a nomination to be made and confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments in time for submission to the voters at the November election. Francophiles

A True Retirement.  “No greener pastures of employment tempt me, but the prospect of leisure time devoted to family, reading, and travel is irresistible. Seventy years is not an age too old for a person to occupy the office I am relinquishing. At the same time, I have served for 14 years in my present role, more than 38 years on the bench, and a total of 45 years in public service. I want to depart while I am young enough to pursue the richness of a life outside the law."

Road Trip to State Funding.  “When I assumed the position of Chief Justice [in 1996], I was determined to improve the fiscal security of the trial courts, having already served as a member of the Judicial Council. To better understand the operations and challenges faced by the local courts, I embarked upon visits to the trial courts in each of our state’s 58 counties, as well as to the appellate courts."

“During these visits, I encountered jurors congregating in stairwells and halls, and on sidewalks, because the court had no place for them inside, and one-day-or one-trial jury service was yet to be instituted. I saw prisoners being transported through clerk’s offices and public hallways.  A jurist presiding in a rural one-judge courthouse showed me law books piled in front of the bench employed as a makeshift shield after an attempted armed hostage-taking. I was impressed by a Los Angeles court commissioner’s construction—in his home workshop—of furniture for his courtroom, which itself was created partially out of a former utility closet."

“It was clear long before I completed my 13,000 mile journey around the state that the lack of consistent and adequate funding made the administration of justice a day-to-day challenge . . . ."

One Court, But We’re Not the Same.  “After state funding, the next major structural change came in 1998, when the electorate, by a two-thirds majority, approved our proposal to amend the constitution to permit the unification of the 220 superior and municipal courts into 58 trial courts—one in each county. By 2001, the judges in all counties had voted to unify, vastly reducing many of the inefficiencies that had been apparent during my court visits."

“Unification has allowed greater flexibility in the use of judicial and staff resources, eliminated duplicative functions, and allowed us to provide additional services such as collaborative justice courts, domestic violence courts, drug courts, and complex litigation courts."

Hail to the [New] Chief.  “In my view, often no single decision made by a Governor has as much impact on his or her legacy as the selection of a Supreme Court justice—particularly a Chief Justice of California. I believe that the Governor’s nominee for Chief Justice, Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, is the ideal person to assume the leadership of California’s judiciary."

“I know that I shall be leaving the future of the branch in the hands of an outstanding jurist who possesses an incisive mind, a commitment to access and fairness, and exceptional administrative and diplomatic skills. Whether leading the Supreme Court or the Judicial Council, I am confident she will build upon the achievements of the individuals who have preceded her as Chief Justice."

Living for Equal Justice Under Law.  “Like most of you here this morning, I have devoted my career to the law and to the cause of justice. ‘Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building,’ former United States Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell once remarked. ‘It is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society . . . it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to . . . status.’ I certainly agree with that proposition."

"To me—and it was just as true when I began my legal career 45 years ago, as it is now as I leave the Supreme Court—justice never has been a matter of privilege and influence. To me, it always has been about the rule of law that lies at the heart of our democratic system of government."

"I consider myself truly fortunate to have been able to serve in California’s judiciary and to work together with so many extraordinary judges, lawyers, and staff. I wish each of you success in your own careers, as well as the great and abiding satisfaction that comes from the efforts you are making to ensure that the rule of law and access to justice continue to prevail."