SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Retired Justice Arthur Scotland has resigned his position as head of a committee looking into reform of the central court bureaucracy because of the appearance of conflict in his recent decision to represent California’s two most powerful Democratic legislators.
“I really actually had no thought about practicing law after retirement, but after I was approached on this it was too good to pass up,” Scotland said. “The reason I decided to take the case is it’s really a unique case on a type of issue I care very much about, the separation of powers.”
Scotland agreed to represent Assembly Speaker John Perez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in their case against Controller John Chiang, filed last week in Sacramento Superior Court. The suit challenges Chiang’s power to cut off pay for legislators if they don’t come up with a balanced budget.
A press release was issued at about 5:00 in the afternoon on Friday, about two hours after Scotland told Courthouse News of his resignation and a reporter called the press office for the Administrative Office of the Courts seeking a copy of his resignation letter.
Scotland said in the earlier interview that he still believes he could simultaneously represent the Democrats and chair the committee of judges and administrators evaluating reform of the Administrative Office of the Courts, a bureaucracy that has inspired widespread criticism from trial judges.
The agency’s actions and decisions are largely responsible for a bill currently before the Legislature to reform the way trial courts are funded. Scotland said his resignation had nothing to do with the bill, AB 1208, that is expected to brought to the Assembly floor Monday and that has drawn the ire of both the chief justice and the central bureaucrats.
The justice said the Chiang case is the first he has taken since he renewed his bar membership last year after retiring from the appellate bench.
The lawsuit involves fundamental issues around the separation of powers between the executive branch and the Legislature. The Democrats contend that Chiang wrongly withheld their pay in June 2011 after determining the state budget was not balanced. Seen as a form of financial punishment, the decision cost lawmakers over $4,000 each.
Scotland said attorney-client privilege barred him from revealing who approached him, but he said it was someone in the Legislature.
Perez’s office did not return calls Friday regarding any meetings with judicial leaders about the case.
Scotland said he “thought long and hard” about the seeming impropriety of his dual roles. “When the announcement was made concerning the filing of the lawsuit, and when I accepted the request to represent them, I didn’t think it would in any way affect my ability to serve as chair.”
Then a friend called and alerted him to the appearance of a conflict of interest. “If a friend asked me, ‘Is there a problem here,’ I really don’t want there to be any appearance that in some way could undermine the credibility of the committee. It’s not worth it because it’s not about me. Sometimes appearance trumps reality.”