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Judicial Reform Propositions

November 05, 1994

Re "190 and 191: 'Yes' on Judicial Reform," editorial, Oct. 10:

Prop. 190 rewrites the way judges are disciplined in California. California was the first state to set up a commission to handle complaints against judges and since 1960, it has helped us maintain a very high quality judiciary. Now the Legislature has a new set of rules it wants you to approve.

The Legislature designed Prop. 190 so it could control the judiciary by dominating the Commission on Judicial Performance. Under Prop. 190, politicians would appoint a majority of its members. The Legislature also rewrote the rules to give the commission total authority. Under Prop. 190 it would be easy to get rid of a judge because he or she bucked a political agenda. Under Prop. 190, the commission can suspend a judge without a hearing, with no other court or agency checking for fairness. Judges should be independent, and not worried about political pressure when they are deciding cases. Judicial discipline may need an "update," but it is not necessary to inject politics into the discipline process in order to make it work better.

When Prop. 190 fails, and it should, state Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco) will introduce a better bill, based on the new national model just approved by the American Bar Assn. It will include the best of Prop. 190, but not the dangers. Kopp's bill will open the Commission on Judicial Performance hearings to the public and put more lay members on the commission--but it won't result in political control of the judiciary. I urge you to vote no on Prop. 190.

JUDGE JOSEPH A. WAPNER (Retired)

Los Angeles Superior Court

* Re your endorsement of Prop. 191, under which the remaining 37 state justice courts become municipal courts:

The Catalina Justice Court is the only justice court in L.A. County. Since the state Constitution provides that "each municipal court district shall have no fewer than 40,000 residents," Prop. 191 will conceivably cause an involuntary merger of the Catalina Judicial District into one of the existing municipal court districts of Los Angeles County. This merger with another nearby judicial district is what should be at the forefront of voters' minds when they consider Prop. 191.

One consideration involves how the judge of the Catalina Justice Court is selected. Although 191 is silent on this issue, a merger with one of the three neighboring judicial district would cause the Catalina judge to become the 10th judge of the South Bay, the 14th judge of the Long Beach, or the 89th judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Judicial District. In other words, rather than voting for a single judge, Catalina voters will be combined with the electorate of a neighboring judicial district to vote on all judgeships within the combined district.

There are approximately 2,000 persons registered to vote within the Catalina Judicial District. No matter into which larger judicial district the Catalina Justice Court is consolidated, islander votes will comprise only approximately 1% or less. Consequently, the choice of the Catalina electorate could be overridden by the desires of the "overtown" voters.

On the other hand, a judicial district merger might include a wider selection of judicial candidates, decreased likelihood that a judge would be voted out of office based on the judge's political views, and reduced incentive for a judge to decide a case based on how popular the decision would be with the local community.

There are other considerations, over and above the name change from "justice" to "municipal" court, which voters should take into account before deciding how to vote on Prop. 191.

JUDGE PETER J. MIRICH

Catalina Justice Court

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