4th District Appellate Judges to Trade Seats in Quest for Consistency

Times Staff Writer

Like 1920s judges who traveled throughout the territory to spread justice evenly, justices in Orange County’s new appellate court will begin traveling the circuit next spring.

In a first-of-its-kind experiment, some justices from the Orange County, San Diego and San Bernardino divisions of the 4th District Court of Appeal will trade seats for three months beginning in February. The purpose is to bring more consistency to appellate decisions.

The 4th District justices will evaluate the experiment after the three months to determine whether to continue.


Lawyers who appear before Orange County’s Court of Appeal in downtown Santa Ana will find themselves facing, perhaps, Justice Robert R. Rickles of San Bernardino or Justice Donald R. Work of San Diego.

Orange County’s Presiding Justice John K. Trotter, who had the idea, said: “It’s a way to deal with what might be perceived to be provincial biases. . . . I think it will ensure more consistency in our decision-making.”

It also will be healthy for Orange County’s appellate system, he said. All four justices on the Orange County appellate court, which began operation almost two years ago, came from Orange County’s Superior Court. Now they review the decisions of other judges on that bench.

“There is a lot of familiarity here,” Trotter said. “I think it will be healthy to have justices from other divisions come here to help us judge our Superior Court brethren.”

Justice Edward T. Butler of the San Diego Division, who is organizing the plan, calls it “putting new inputs into old biases.”

“You can develop perceptions that fit like an old shoe,” Butler said. “Sometimes it’s good to fit into somebody else’s shoes.”


When the 4th District was created in 1928, Butler said, justices rode the circuit out of necessity from Fresno to San Bernardino.

“Now we don’t have to do it, but if it works, why not?”

Nine Volunteers The 4th is the only district of the six in California trying the experiment. Nine of its justices have volunteered for the rotating seats.

If anyone opposes the plan, the justices figure it will be the lawyers who appear in appellate court.

David L. Price, president of the Orange County Bar Assn., agrees that’s a possibility. Part of a lawyer’s job is to tell the client how a court is likely to vote on a case.

“It’s always a lot easier to predict when you know ahead of time you’re dealing with the same four justices you’ve always dealt with,” Price said. “But who knows? Maybe this will be good for everybody.”