California Bar Journal
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Plain English wends its way to juries
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Staff Writer
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Photo by Mark CostantiniPlain English may soon find its way into jury instructions. As part of a long-range effort by the California courts to reform the jury system, a Judicial Council task force last month released a draft of civil and criminal jury instructions designed to be more understandable while remaining accurate.

“We’re looking to strike a balance between the need for clarity and the need for accuracy,” said 1st District Court of Appeal Justice Carol Corrigan, chair of the group,. “It’s quite a tap dance.”

The daunting project, which has taken two years so far, has produced two volumes — 247 pages of civil and 234 pages of criminal instructions. That amounts to about one-third of what Corrigan believes will be the final product, expected to be completed in another two years.

Standardized jury instructions now used by California courts are contained in CALJIC and BAJI, copyrighted materials originally produced in the 1930s and ‘40s by a committee of Los Angeles Superior Court judges.

Although a rule of court now instructs judges to use either those instructions, which have been revised and updated over the years, or others that accurately state the law, judges and attorneys have long complained that the CALJIC and BAJI instructions are complex and hard to understand.

In December 1995, the Judicial Council created a Commission on Jury System Improvement, which ultimately concluded that “jury instructions presently given in California and elsewhere are, on occasion, simply impenetrable to the ordinary juror.”

Chief Justice Ronald M. George then appointed the Task Force on Jury Instructions, with the charge of producing clear, accurate instructions.

Because the Judicial Council and the Los Angeles judges could not reach agreement on revising those instructions, the task force started from scratch, Corrigan said, scrupulously avoiding comparisons with CALJIC or BAJI.

“We have been rigid about going back to ‘Go,’” she said, following formulations contained in statutes and caselaw. Members of the 25-member task force did not want to suggest changes in the law or resolve conflicts. Rather, they defined terms when necessary and substituted a more understandable word if an accurate synonym for the legal language could be found.

The task force and the Los Angeles judges also have a difference of philosophy, Corrigan said.

“The Los Angeles courts believe the safest way to instruct a jury and


State Supreme Court appears divided over appointments process to State Bar Court
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The Supreme Court heard arguments last month on whether the legislature overstepped its bounds when it changed the way judges of the State Bar Court are appointed.

The justices appeared divided in their thinking about whether SB 143, which permits political appointments of some bar court judges, politicizes the process and violates the doctrine of separation of powers.

“This court cannot allow the legislature to deprive it of its fundamental right to appoint State Bar Court judges,” said James Wagstaffe, representing three bar court judges who sued to invalidate the legislation. “This is a case which does interfere with the inherent authority of the court.”

But Manuel M. Madeiros, senior assistant attorney general from Sacramento, defended the statute, pointing out the State Bar is both an arm of the judiciary and a state agency and is thus subject to legislative authority.

Under legislation adopted in 1988 and Rule of Court 961, adopted by the Supreme Court in 1990, the justices appoint five hearing judges and three review judges of the State Bar Court. One of the review judges is a non-lawyer.

Last year, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton introduced SB 143, which amends Business & Profes-sions Code 6079.1 and 6086.65 to permit the governor and the legislature to appoint three of the five hearing judges and replaces the non-lawyer review judge with a judge who is an attorney.

He double-joined the measure to


New president to be chosen
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Staff Writer
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The State Bar Board of Governors will elect a new president this month, choosing from a field of four third-year board members.

Paul Hokokian of Fresno, Palmer Madden of Alamo (Contra Costa County), Clara Slifkin of Los Angeles and Thomas Warwick Jr. of San Diego are vying for the one-year job as head of the largest state bar in the country.

The winner will be sworn in as the bar’s 75th president at the annual meeting in San Diego in September.

Each candidate has said the next president, who will succeed Andrew Guilford of Costa Mesa, will likely preside over the continued rebuilding of the bar. At the same time, each hopes to offer some innovations, although they differ about their priorities.

Hokokian, a Fresno County deputy district attorney, said it is crucial that the bar know its limitations, par