Dan Walters


Published: Monday, Jul. 4, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

When Assemblyman Charles Calderon commented on the physical and mental attributes of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye – positively – flags went up.

Women’s groups and Democrat Calderon’s female colleagues fired bullets at Calderon’s allusion to Cantil-Sakauye while talking about a court management bill he was carrying.

“It isn’t ‘Is she nice?’ ‘Cause she is,” Calderon said in May. ” ‘Is she smart?’ ‘Cause she is. ‘Is she attractive?’ ‘Cause she is. It isn’t about that.”

The media paid a lot of attention to the barbs, especially when Cantil-Sakauye told an interviewer that she was “troubled” by the remark in conjunction with “a very serious hearing.”

“That’s when that answer is unresponsive,” she said, “and is offensive and is not at all responsive to the question.”

Outside the legal press, however, media have given little notice to the bill itself, the focal point of a very bitter battle that pits Cantil-Sakauye against a band of rebel judges called the Alliance of California Judges.

As both houses of the Legislature moved hundreds of bills last month to meet deadlines, one of the measures left behind was Calderon’s Assembly Bill 1208, which would give local judges more authority over how their courts are managed, including finances, and therefore would take some authority from the Judicial Council, which the chief justice chairs.

A basic tenet of Capitol politics is that a legislator moves a bill when it has the votes, so one must assume that his contentious measure that would change how the court system is managed doesn’t have the votes.

That makes it a tactical win for the judicial establishment and Cantil-Sakauye and may stem from those tone-deaf remarks Calderon made during a committee hearing. The Assembly’s Democratic leadership, which had supported Calderon, backed away after the uproar erupted.

When the state assumed financial responsibility for the courts, it made them – like schools, prisons and welfare programs – another player in the annual budget game.

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