JNE wins vote of confidence, but several changes recommended

Staff Writer

... Continued from frontpage

Among the recommendations from the seven-member committee's preliminary report is a proposal to drop the "not qualified" rating for judicial nominees, replacing it with a "not recommended at this time" category.

"It's a small but large part [of the report]," said Justice James D. Ward of the 4th District Court of Appeal and chair of the advisory committee. "It requires legislation to change, but I think people will really appreciate it."

A controversy erupted last year when Gov. Wilson appointed Janice Rogers Brown to the state Supreme Court, despite her "not qualified" rating from the Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE) Commission.

It was the first time a "not qualified" candidate was nominated to the bench since the JNE Commission's formation in 1979.

The controversy was exacerbated when portions of the JNE Commission's confidential evaluation were leaked to the press, revealing the reasons for Judge Brown's rating.

As a result of the controversy, a call went out to review the entire JNE Commission process. Ward said the final report would be submitted to the board in May.

In the area of confidentiality, the committee proposed that in some limited instances, "the process should be opened up to the public in order to increase candidate and public confidence." The public should be permitted to learn the name of an individual submitted by the governor for evaluation, said one suggestion.

In the draft, committee members also suggested that entire reports be released, rather than just ratings, on successful appellate nominees at their confirmation hearings before the Commission on Judicial Appointments.

The report also included the following recommendations:

In the area of investigation, the review committee suggested that a minimum of 50 confidential questionnaires be collected for each judicial candidate, an increase from 30. 

Additionally, the committee proposed two different investigative processes: one for trial court evaluations and another for appellate and Supreme Court nominees.

Advisory committee members proposed a "not recommended at this time" rating, saying that the stigma of "not qualified" was unfair, especially when an otherwise promising candidate simply needed to gain more experience or "seasoning."

The committee also voted to expand the grounds for review of an appeal of an unfavorable rating and to increase the review panel from three to five members.

In an effort to "strengthen the relationship" with the governor's office, the committee proposed that the appointments secretary be invited to attend JNE meetings to observe, but not participate in discussions and voting.

Critics of the JNE Commission relayed their opinions to the committee, saying that JNE infringes on the governor's appointment power because of the 90-day evaluation period.

Former Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian and Justice Robert K. Puglia of the 3rd District Court of Appeal have been vocal critics of JNE, saying it is unnecessary and overly expensive.

Deukmejian questioned the commission's apparent lack of accountability to the public and suggested the process be moved directly in the governor's office.

He acknowledged, however, that reports and recommendations from the JNE Commission had proven "helpful."

Out of 67 written responses to the committee's questionnaires,only one recommended abolishing JNE.

In its report, the committee said other alternatives to judicial evaluations were not satisfactory. The JNE Commission is preferred because of its useful information, political independence, consistency, diversity and accessibility to State Bar resources, wrote committee members.

Members of the committee are: Ophelia B. Basgal, executive director of the Housing Authority of Alameda County; Maurice L. Evans, chief assistant district attorney of Orange County; Terrance W. Flanigan, Sacramento attorney, former bar lobbyist and former appointments secretary to Governors Deukmejian and Wilson; Rex S. Heinke, Los Angeles attorney and former chair of the Los Angeles County Bar's judicial election committee; Peter Kaye, current member of the Board of Governors and editorial director of San Diego television station KNSD; and Ann Ravel, current member of the Board of Governors and former chair of the JNE Commission.