Democratic Assemblyman Richard Robinson, whose 1981 legislation established the state appellate court at Santa Ana, seems poised now to thwart a Republican lawmaker's attempt to expand the court.
Meanwhile, Republican Assemblyman Nolan Frizzelle, who resisted the idea of the new court four years ago, is carrying a bill that would add two justices to the four-judge court.
Though the turnabout of the two Orange County lawmakers may smack of partisan politics, both men explain their positions in terms of the court's needs.
One important change since the passage of Robinson's bill, which established new appellate courts in Santa Ana, San Jose and Santa Barbara, has been the governorship. Then, new judges were to be appointed by Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. Now, any new justices would be appointed by his Republican successor, George Deukmejian.
But Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach) said his attempt to expand the Orange County division of the 4th District Court of Appeal was not motivated by any desire to allow or influence judicial appointments by the Republican governor.
Frizzelle says he wants to expand the court because the justices are overworked and their caseloads are increasing. Robinson, a Garden Grove Democrat, says the expansion might be premature because new courts always bring about an increase in the number of cases.
Political maneuvering in the Legislature regarding appointments to the judiciary is nothing new. Governors have always been able to leave a lasting impression on the state's courts through their choice of appointees for the appellate bench.
Gov. Ronald Reagan, who political observers say worked well with the Democrat-controlled Legislature, made 39 appointments to the Court of Appeal and three to the state Supreme Court. Democrat Brown appointed 67 justices--seven to the Supreme Court and 60 to the Court of Appeal.
Legislators, well aware of this power, have often tried to limit it by denying or delaying court expansions. Republicans, for example, unsuccessfully attempted to deny outgoing Gov. Brown the opportunity to make the 18 appellate appointments that resulted from passage of Robinson's 1981 bill.
Some Democrats, rankled by Deukmejian's frequent criticisms of the state Supreme Court, say privately they will not be so generous with the current governor, who, so far, has named only one Supreme Court justice and 16 Court of Appeal justices.
Frizzelle's bill is one of two appellate-court expansion bills introduced so far this year. Legislation by Assemblyman Stan Statham (R-Oak Run) would add three justices to the 3rd District Court of Appeal, Sacramento.
In a letter to Frizzelle this week, Robinson accused the Huntington Beach Republican of political motivations and legislative discourtesy, and hinted that he may try to scuttle the effort to expand the appellate court at Santa Ana.
Frizzelle said he probably will not respond to the letter but said Robinson's interpretation of his motives--both now and in 1981--is flawed.
Quotes Chief Justice
While some Republicans who voted against the 1981 court expansion may have been trying to deny judicial appointments to former Gov. Brown, Frizzelle insists he had other reasons--although he does not recall them now. Frizzelle noted that he initially voted for Robinson's bill in the Assembly but voted against a conference committee compromise on final passage "because of concerns within my district on some issue."
Now, Frizzelle said, he is carrying the new bill to expand the Orange County court only because Presiding Justice John Trotter raised a "credible concern" about the four justices' excessive workload.
"You know, we can talk about motivations of mine and motivations of his, but none of those address the issue," Frizzelle said.
Robinson said in his letter that he viewed Frizzelle's attempt to expand the court "with a great deal of amusement.'
"I am also fascinated because it is clear to me that your agenda in opposing the initial creation of the court and now seeing fit to break with legislative protocol in involving yourself in state legislative issues within my district is clearly only motivated by the fact that there is now a Republican in the governor's office," Robinson wrote.
Letters to Delegation
"I assure you that your motivations will be of great interest to the Assembly Judiciary Committee which will be hearing the proposal, and of which I am a member," Robinson continued.
Justice Trotter said he wrote to every member of the Orange County legislative delegation about the justices' excessive workloads "so that the wheels can begin to grind."
He said he was surprised by Frizzelle's bill and would be further surprised if the Legislature adopted it without the endorsement of the state Judicial Council.
"I fully didn't expect to get the judges this year," said Trotter. "I just put the word out that we are in trouble and that we need help. We are going further in the hole every month."
Trotter said the court, which started considering cases early in 1983, could have a 1,000-case backlog by the end of this year.
The state Judicial Council has not yet taken any position on Frizzelle's bill. John Davies, the council's assistant director, said the council will do so before the Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill, which has not yet been scheduled.
Davies said the council will look at the need for new justices based on the workload in the entire appellate district, which includes divisions at San Bernardino and San Diego, in addition to Orange County.
The council's opposition is usually a death knell for court-expansion legislation, but Robinson pushed through the 1981 bill over its opposition.
The council charged at the time that Robinson wanted the appellate court branch in his district so that he could influence appointments. Robinson acknowledged at the time that there were "political considerations" in his wanting an appellate court in Santa Ana and boasted that his stature in the Legislature was an important factor in getting it approved.
Republicans nearly denied Brown those appointments by refusing to vote for the conference committee version of Robinson's bill. That meant the bill was approved by less than the two-thirds vote required for new appropriations, and this gave rise to a court challenge of the bill's legitimacy.
That challenge went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the bill. Brown finally made the 18 appellate court appointments as a lame duck--after the November, 1982, election, in which Deukmejian defeated the Democratic candidate, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.