Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

As the Legislature reconvened this month, California’s judges resumed their civil war over money and power.

It pits Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and the State Judicial Council, along with one faction of trial and appellate judges, against a rebellious faction, organized as the Alliance of California Judges, over how to allocate pain as the courts adjust to reduced financing.

An early political test for the combatants is Assembly Bill 1208, a rebel-sponsored bill that faces a deadline this week for approval by the Assembly.

The measure, which would strengthen the authority of local judges vis-à-vis the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts, has been stalled for months as both sides ramped up their lobbying.

For a profession that places high value on decorum and what’s called “judicial demeanor,” the public and private politicking has gotten downright nasty at times, with the contending factions exchanging accusations of bad conduct.

Cantil-Sakauye has remained publicly aloof from the fray, leaving the day-to-day maneuvering to her supporters, but there’s little doubt that she is – continuing the no-change position that predecessor Ronald George held – helping organize opposition to the bill, which is being carried by the Assembly’s Democratic floor leader, Charles Calderon.

Her faction has been peddling the concept that were AB 1208 to become law, it would threaten the independence of the judiciary. But the rebels contend that the state court bureaucracy that she heads has been wasting money on a bloated staff, an unworkable computer system and a grandiose courthouse construction program while trial courts are being forced to reduce staff and services.

The rebel alliance has produced a 20-page white paper that lays out in detail what it regards as misappropriation of operational funds for the courts that leaves them unable to cope with criminal and civil business.

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