Jurists, scholars meet to discuss impartiality of California courts

Legal News Line Jul. 7, 2008, 3:23pm

California state Capitol

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-A task force formed to explore ways to ensure impartiality and accountability for state courts will host its first fact-finding hearings next week.

The Commission on Impartial Courts in California's first public hearing will focus on judicial elections and the political pressure that many within the judicial branch of government believe threatens its ability to govern with fairness and impartiality.

"Courts throughout the country are facing unfair political attacks that threaten to weaken our democracy and jeopardize every American's right to equal access to justice," said California Supreme Court Justice Ming W. Chin, chair of the Commission for Impartial Courts.

Former California governors Republican Pete Wilson and Democrat Gray Davis will join other prominent leaders to address the commission, including Don Peralta, president pro tempore of the California Senate and Ohio Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer.

Law school professors from Stanford and Loyola along with presidents of the California Judges Associated and State Bar of California will also address the commission.

"This is the first of its kind," said Lynn Holton, public information officer for the Judicial Council of California.

Justice Chin chairs the task force, which includes jurists, court executive officers, attorneys, government and business officials and members of the public, according to a press release issued by the Judicial Council of California on Monday.

The commission has four task forces: judicial selection and retention, judicial candidate campaign conduct, judicial campaign finance and public information and education.

"The commission is studying the importance of preserving the right to fair and impartial courts that make decisions based on the evidence and the law, free of outside influences," Justice Chin said. "The commission believes that courts should be accountable-not to politicians and special interests-but to well-established codes of conduct that require them to follow the law and the Constitution."

Holton said political ads from other states will be shown during the public form.

"They are sort of horrifying," Holton said. "It hasn't happened here in California, but it could."

Information gathered during the public forum will be applied by the four task forces to each respective area of interest. The commission is charged with, "recommending actions that should be taken by the Judicial Council of California in order to safeguard the quality, impartiality, and accountability of the California judiciary for the benefit of all its citizens," according to its Web site.

The forum will be held from 9:30 until noon in the auditorium of the Secretary of State Building, 1500 11th Street, Sacramento.

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