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Law Office Management

May 2, 2006

Force of Nature: Chief Justic Ron George marks ten years as a master politician.

As Ronald M. George celebrates his tenth year as chief justice of the California Supreme Court, observers marvel at his political acumen.

Edited by martin lasden
      Force of Nature
      Chief Justice Ron George marks ten years as a master politician
      When Ronald M. George first joined the state Supreme Court as an associate justice in 1991, no one could have anticipated the impact he'd have on the California judicial system. But now, as he marks his tenth year as chief justice, George, 66, is being hailed as one of the most effective-and affable-leaders the court has ever had.
      "As an administrator, he really has excelled," says Santa Clara University law school professor Gerald F. Uelmen, a veteran court watcher. "The reforms he has brought about are significant. And he has made enormous strides for us, promoting independence for courts across the board."
      A former Los Angeles prosecutor and superior court judge, George's political savvy and public relations prowess set him apart from his predecessors. Instead of stonewalling reporters, George courts conversation with the press-he even invites reporters into his chambers for an annual holiday party. Often sporting pinstripe suits and a wide smile, he has worked to build alliances with legal and law enforcement associations as well as legislators.
      Soon after he was sworn in as chief justice in 1996, George mounted a relentless campaign to reform the California court system, visiting every county superior court in the state during a twelve-month period. His effort had no small part in the passage of the Trial Court Funding Act of 1997, which transferred funding for trial courts exclusively to the state. The following year, voters passed Proposition 220, which authorized the merging of 220 municipal and superior courts into 58 trials courts.
      George was also a major force behind passage of the Trial Court Facilities Act of 2002. Signed by Gov. Gray Davis, it transferred ownership and management of California's 451 courthouses from the counties to the state.
      However, not everything under George's watch has gone according to plan. For example, although negotiations are under way at more than 30 court facilities, at press time ownership of only four courthouses has been transferred from the county to the state. Also, the judiciary's goal of obtaining $9.8 billion for courthouse construction through Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's massive public works bond recently went down in flames with the rest of the initiative.
      But George, a former marathon runner, is preparing for his biggest challenge yet: a constitutional amendment that would stabilize funding for the courts and provide for additional judgeships. Many believe he has the political clout to pull it off.
      "The chief justice needs to be a good jurist and have an excellent command of politics-not partisan politics, but the politics needed to deal with the long-term health of the judiciary and the other two branches of government," says state Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
      "Without Ron George's political sophistication," Dunn adds, "we would've never been able to get as far as we have." -Amelia Hansen

Annie Gausn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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