Judging Judges: Yes on 92

Proposition 92 on the Nov. 8 ballot would amend the state Constitution to change the operations of the state Commission on Judicial Performance, the agency that hears citizen complaints regarding the conduct of judges.

The commission is composed of nine members, including five judges from different levels of the state court system, two attorneys and two members of the public appointed by the governor. All members serve four-year terms. Proposition 92 would stagger the terms of commission members by shortening the terms of the judges and attorneys currently serving on the commission to two years. It would also prohibit commissioners from serving more than two four-year terms.

But the most important change would reduce the secrecy in which the commission works. Under current law, complaints against judges are handled on a confidential basis, becoming public only after investigations are completed and filed with the state Supreme Court for review. The new rules would require that the charges against a judge be made public once a preliminary investigation is complete and formal proceedings have begun, a practice currently followed in 24 other states. The new rules would also allow the commission to open its hearings to the public when a judge requests it, or when special circumstances warrant public hearings. It would also allow the commission to publicly reproach judges for conduct that warrants discipline, and to issue press releases and other public statements explaining its actions.

The chief criticism against Proposition 92 is that it does not go far enough in opening up commission proceedings. It's proponents, who include members of the commission as well as the California Judges Assn. and the state Judicial Council, argue that Proposition 92 opens up disciplinary proceedings against judges in a reasonable way. We agree and urge a yes vote on Proposition 92.

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