California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - APRIL 2000
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


REGULARS

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Front Page - April 2000
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News Briefs
Election schedule set for board, CYLA vacancies
Bar court judge appointments process to be reviewed
Newest board member dies
Ventura County mobile legal center cited by ABA
ABA offers three CLE programs
Bar, Western State plan annual ethics symposium
Penalty for late bar dues moved to April 28
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Legal Tech - UM: The leading edge of convergence
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Opinion
From the President - Link starting salaries with service
Easy to destroy, hard to rebuild
2 trains on a collision course
Keep the judiciary independent
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
Viewing the Subdivision Map Act
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Public Comment
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Discipline
Ethics Byte - More on the written agreement
Charges of grand theft, sexual battery lead to bar hearing
Attorney Discipline

OPINION

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Keep the judiciary independent
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By WILLIAM G. PAUL
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William G. PaulRecent comments by Gov. Gray Davis undermining the California judiciary at all levels deserve scrutiny by California’s lawyers, and by lawyers everywhere, who value judicial independence.

Davis, at a recent breakfast with California reporters based in Washington, D.C., stated that judges he appoints at all levels in California should remember who appointed them. He even said their decisions should reflect his policies, and if his judicial appointees cannot do that, they should resign.

“All my appointees, including judges, have to, more or less, reflect the views I’ve expressed in my election, otherwise democracy doesn’t work,” he told reporters.

Gov. Davis is plain wrong on this issue. This is exactly how a democracy does not operate.

At the heart of our democratic system of government is the concept of three branches of government, each separate but equal. That tripartite system serves as a shining model now being emulated by emerging democracies the world over.

The separation of powers, as every school child knows, insures that one branch of government will not hold sway over another. This system guarantees the promise of the United States Constitution to all living within our country. It should be cherished and guarded fearlessly from all who would erode it.

When our country’s founders invented the three branches of government, they realized that the judicial branch was the weakest because it had neither the power of the purse nor the power of the military. However, the founders knew that the power of the judicial branch lies in the trust and faith of the citizenry.

Judges hear thousands of cases every year, impartially guided by the rule of law. Countless citizens depend on this impartiality to resolve their disputes in the courtroom, as do the lawyers who appear before judges.

For a democracy to work, judges must be independent from any other branch of government. Those appearing before a judge in California, or elsewhere in our country, should have the confidence that the court will make fair and impartial decisions based on the law and the merits of the individual case.

California judges should not take into consideration the whims of the day or look over their shoulder, fearful that a decision might lose them their job.

For more than two centuries, the separation of powers has worked to protect and defend freedom in our nation. Our progress as a society often has been forged by a judiciary free from partisan politics — a judiciary acting on the basis of what is right and just, not what is popular. The courageous rulings of federal judges in civil rights cases in the ‘60s provide clear examples.

Gov. Davis needs to reconsider his position on California’s judges. They are neither his puppets nor his pawns.

When there are unreasonable challenges to judges, it behooves the legal community to protect the independence of the courts.

Without an independent judiciary, our nation, and California, will be less than its constitutional promise and far less than our citizens deserve.

William G. Paul is president of the American Bar Association.