Changes at Top Echelon of CA Court System


     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The most powerful and controversial committee at the top of California’s court system has a new leader, with Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye’s appointment of appellate judge Douglas Miller from Riverside. Another appellate judge, Harry Hull from Sacramento, takes over as head of the rules committee.

     Both committees have generated controversy and resentment from trial court judges in past years, as they were used by former Chief Justice Ron George to push through his agenda for taking control of finances and rules in California’s far-flung trial courts.
     The appointment of Associate Justice Miller on Tuesday stands in contrast to that history. He brings to the Executive and Planning Committee a reputation as a conciliatory figure who works well with his colleagues.
     Underscoring that contrast in tone, Miller is planning to visit trial courts throughout the state to get some perspective on the likely effects of a $350 million budget cut to the judicial branch.
     In a press release, he said, “I think that the courts face difficult and challenging times and I am committed to involving the judicial branch and the Judicial Council in solving the issues that confront us.”
     Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said in the same release that she admires Miller’s “collaborative skills.”
     Miller was on the Judicial Council for two years when he was a trial judge in Riverside, before his appointment to the appellate bench in 2006 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was vice-president of the California Judges Association from 2001-2002.
      Miller’s new job is a tough one in trying to change the committee’s reputation and, according to the committee’s many critics, rein in the 1,000-person bureaucracy that administers money, buildings and computers for the 58 trial courts in California.
     San Diego Superior Court Judge Runston Maino said he believed Miller to be “collegial,” but so far has appeared unwilling to challenge the status quo within the high echelons of California’s courts.
     “From what I have seen of Justice Miller at CJA functions I do believe he will strive to be collegial,” Maino said.
     “However, I have never heard him question anything the AOC was doing or proposed to do. I believe that in these troubled times the chief justice would be better served by someone who was more critical of our current court administration.”
      “Justice Miller is a really nice guy who is taking on a difficult assignment at a difficult time,” said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Czuleger, a former member of the Judicial Council who clashed with the bureaucrats.
     Another judge, who asked to speak without attribution, characterized Miller as “soft spoken and generally respectful.” But the judge said he “will not be a force of change.”
     “He has good intentions to be collegial,” the judge added, “but he is not critical of the AOC, nor is he a critical thinker when it comes to court administration.” He predicted that Miller will align himself with the bureaucrats, as did his predecessor Associate Justice Richard Huffman who had a reputation as the heavy-handed enforcer of the former chief justice’s will.
     “He will be nicer about it, however,” the judge said.
     Replacing Miller on the Rules and Projects Committee is Associate Justice Harry Hull Jr. from Sacramento.
     Hull also got his start as a trial judge, beginning his career in 1995 in the Sacramento Superior Court. After two years he was appointed to the Court of Appeal, and has sat on the Judicial Council’s Appellate Advisory Committee since 2008.
     His colleague Associate Justice Tom Hollenhorst called Hull’s selection to head the seat vacated by Miller an “all-star appointment.”
     Hollenhorst, who has worked with Hull in the past, said Hull is “really well thought of. Hull is a wonderful guy. He is smart and has a broad range of experience. He’s a good trial judge and a good appellate judge.”

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