Northern California Record

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Legislative committee chairman can't predict outcome of state's first judicial commission audit

By Karen Kidd | Aug 26, 2016

General court 10

SACRAMENTO – An upcoming audit of California's only commission responsible for disciplining California judges, the Commission on Judicial Performance, will be objective and credible, state legislators say.

"JLAC does not attempt to pre-determine the outcome of any audit," Christopher Craig, speaking for Freddie Rodriguez, chair of the legislative committee responsible for the audit, told the Northern California Record. "The audit process is designed to be objective and credible." 

Joint Legislative Audit Committee Chairman and state Assembly Member Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona)

When the Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP) formed 56 years ago, California became the first state in the U.S. to establish such an independent judiciary commission. The CJP remains the only government entity in California that can discipline and even remove judges. However, the commission has been plagued by allegations of failing to investigate incidents of judicial misconduct or incapacity. The commission also has been accused of too often not holding judges to standards in the state's Code of Judicial Ethics, and applying discipline where those standards haven't been met.

Members of the approximately dozen groups who have been pushing for the audit of the CJP say they are hoping for exactly that outcome.

"Right now, no one really knows how the CJP operates," Kathleen Russell, the executive director of the Center for Judicial Excellence, told the Northern California Record. "So we're hoping for answers and a lot more sun to be shined by this audit."

Once the audit is complete, it will stand on its own, Craig said.

"In fact, once the committee approves an audit, the law prohibits the auditor and the auditee from discussing anything substantive related to an ongoing audit," Craig said. "The only information the state auditor’s office will provide is an estimate of when the audit will be started and completed."

So far, a timeline has not been released by the auditor’s office, but Russell said she hopes it will begin by January.

"Then, maybe, it will be completed in six or eight months or however long it takes," she said. 

Russell's group is one of several groups pushing for the audit for more than a decade. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted unanimously and without debate during the committee's Aug. 10 meeting to approve what will be the first audit of the CJP since it was created in 1961, according to an Associated Press report.

The committee took into account observations by the Center for Judicial Excellence that the CJP operates in "relative obscurity" and cited as an example Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky. Persky was widely criticized for sentencing former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to only six months in jail earlier this summer for sexually assaulting a woman behind a trash bin near a fraternity house.

In March, another group pushing for the audit, Court Reform LLC, released a 78-page report that compared the CJP to similar agencies in other states. The report claimed the CJP was "ineffective at enforcing judicial discipline, wastes public money and is too secretive about its operations." 

"Once the audit is completed, the audit results are available to the public, Legislature and governor," Craig said.

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Organizations in this Story

State of CaliforniaCenter for Judicial Excellence