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‘Overprotected Judiciary’

The editorial “Overprotected Judiciary” (Dec. 29) demands a response. It reflects a disturbing lack of perspective on the reality of complaints about the judiciary.

Your readers would never guess from your editorial that The Times endorsed Proposition 92 and mentioned the California Judges Assn.'s backing as one reason for that endorsement; they would not guess that Proposition 92 passed overwhelmingly, with 74% of the vote, and that CJA did not oppose it. State Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia), his staff, the Judicial Council, CJA, and the Commission on Judicial Performance put together a compromise piece of reform legislation.

Your broadside made an impassioned, if self-serving, case for the public’s right to know. But it read as though there are no competing rights that must be balanced against public access within this sensitive area. There are fundamental reasons for careful, confidential deliberation in judicial disciplinary proceedings. Judges in our system are in a unique position. They must work free from intimidation, and cannot respond publicly to complaints about their decisions or their overall performance. Disgruntled litigants file a large number of groundless complaints against judges, which is why only 8% of those formal complaints made to the Commission on Judicial Performance in 1987 and resolved in that year resulted in any form of public or private discipline.

Perhaps a reminder that the public is represented throughout the process by two non-judge, non-attorney members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate is in order.

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Of the two actual cases the editorial cited as exemplifying the problems with the system, one dealt with a recommendation about one judge, not a final action. The Times would have publicized the recommendation in that case prior to actual disciplinary action and prior to his election. The other example (the 1978 investigation of the Bird court) is simply a case of The Times taking a shot at a popular political target. If these two examples are the best evidence for drastic changes beyond the carefully worked out compromises in Proposition 92, the case for such change is not very strong.

There is another unfounded implication in the editorial; that it is somehow improper for CJA to represent the views of its membership in Sacramento. We make no apologies for our participation, properly circumscribed within a strict code of ethical conduct, in the democratic political process.

CANDACE D. COOPER

President, Calif. Judges Assn.


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