Ward vows to talk to all in probe of JNE Commission


In an effort to address perceived problems with the method of reviewing judicial candidates for the governor, the State Bar has appointed a seven-member advisory committee to look into the operations and procedures of the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE).

State Bar President Jim Towery announced that Court of Appeal Justice James D. Ward of Riverside will serve as chair of the panel.

Ward was named to the appellate bench last month and previously served as a superior court judge in Riverside County. He was a member of the JNE commission from 1984 until 1987, when he served as its chair. He also is a former member of the Board of Governors, from 1981-84.

"I'm very flattered that I was selected," said Justice Ward, "and we have a good group." Ward said he's had "massive experience" with the commission through the years and understands the commitment undertaken by its members.

"We can't browbeat these people who as volunteers are doing a definitely important and at the same time thankless job," said Ward.

Others named to the review panel were: Ophelia B. Basgal, executive director of Alameda County's Housing Authority, who will serve as vice-chair; Terrance W. Flanigan, a partner in a public policy advocacy firm in Sacramento; Rex S. Heinke, a law partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles; Maurice L. Evans, Orange County's chief assistant district attorney; Peter F. Kaye, editorial director of KNSD-TV in San Diego; and Ann M. Ravel, Santa Clara County's chief assistant county counsel.

Evans, Kaye and Ravel all are current members of the Board of Governors.

The JNE commission was thrust into the public arena recently when Gov. Pete Wilson nominated Justice Janice Rogers Brown to the state Supreme Court despite her "unqualified" rating from the commission.

Brown's appointment was later confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments.

The 27-member commission was set up in 1979 to evaluate the governor's judicial nominees, and its reports are confidential. Members are appointed by the board and recommendations go directly to the governor.

Details of Brown's evaluation, however, were leaked to the press, and a three-member panel has been appointed to probe that breach of confidence. Investigating the leak are retired Appellate Justice Harry Low of San Francisco, now a mediator for JAMS, San Mateo County District Attorney Jim Fox and Fresno County Municipal Court Judge Robert Oliver.

Towery said he is pleased with the makeup of the newly appointed seven-member JNE advisory panel and is "confident they will thoroughly and objectively evaluate JNE's current rules and procedures."

The advisory committee could solicit suggestions for potential improvement in its process from a variety of sources, said Towery.

Those sources could include the governor, the state Supreme Court, the California Judges Association and former and present JNE commissioners.

Ward said the panel will be talking to those considered "victims, annoyed [by JNE], think it's wonderful and those who love it."

The committee is expected to report its findings to the board by the end of the year.