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Judicial Resistance

By Jeanne Deprincen | Oct. 2, 2006

Law Office Management

Oct. 2, 2006

Judicial Resistance

A debate over whether to make continuing education mandatory for judges reaches a boiling point. By Susan E. Davis

By Susan E. Davis
      Edited By Martin Lasden
      Will California judges ever have to go back to school?
      A heated debate within California's judiciary reached a boiling point in July when, by a vote of 250, the California Judges Association (CJA) voted to oppose a proposal requiring judges to go through at least 30 hours of continuing judicial education (CJE) every three years. Now it's up to the Judicial Council to decide how to respond, which it is expected to do this month. Will the Judicial Council stand by the original proposal, as drafted by its governing board? Or will it decide to retain the current voluntary system, and by so doing reject what most states have embraced?
      In fact, as of September 2005, the National Center for State Courts reports, 42 states have mandated continuing education for general jurisdiction judges. Requirements range as high as 64 hours per year--far more than what the Judicial Council's governing board recommended.
      "It's interesting that there's been a firestorm in California over this issue," says John Meeks, president of the National Association of State Judicial Educators, "because most states passed such rules 15 to 25 years ago. This issue is not even something that judicial educators discuss at meetings anymore."
      What's also interesting is that the CJA's opposition comes in the face of earlier surveys in California that indicated strong support among judges for delineating minimum education standards. For example, in one survey last year (with a response rate of about 10 percent), 75 percent of the 160 responding judicial officers said they supported mandatory CJE. Also, both the Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee and the Court Executive Advisory Committee expressed support for mandatory CJE.
      Yet CJA was against the idea from the start. "California's voluntary system of judicial education is without a doubt the best in the country, if not the world," declares Alameda Superior Court Judge Julie Conger, who, along with about a dozen other judges on the CJA board, threatened to resign if it did not take a stand against the Judicial Council proposal. "Mandatory CJE," she maintains, "would bring about a cookie-cutter approach" to training judges. And, unfortunately, she adds, "Most of these classes have to do with cultural awareness and other touchy-feely issues, not substantive law."
      Meanwhile, from his vantage point at the state's high court, Chief Justice Ronald M. George expressed some discomfort over the tone of the debate. "I welcome healthy debate," he says, "but I think the stature of the judiciary is diminished when the debate is reduced to personal tirades and ultimatums." George also says that as chair of the Judicial Council, he plans to recuse himself when the group votes on the issue this month, just in case there's a legal challenge. (In a late-August advisory opinion, Attorney General Bill Lockyer stated that the Judicial Council and the chief justice have constitutional authority to require judges to take CJE classes.)
      Of course, for those who remember the fight to pass continuing legal education requirements for attorneys, the whole controversy over judges is bound to sound familiar. And that, says Meeks, is why so many states have already adopted minimum education requirements for judges. "They figure if the attorneys have to do it, why not the judges?"

Jeanne Deprincen

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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