SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California's chief justice on Wednesday chose Los Angeles Judge Emilie Elias for a spot on the courts' policy making body, in the wake of retirement by Los Angeles Judge Burt Pines who sometimes questioned policy mapped out by court administrators.
The two Los Angeles judges on the Judicial Council have often acted as the only counterpoint to recommendations from the staff of the Administrative Office of the Courts which are generally approved by the council.
The two most controversial issues for California's courts are a very expensive IT system and a legislative proposal over funding for the trial courts.
The new member of the council refused a request for an interview that included those two issues as proposed topics, instead responding through a court spokesperson with generalities.
"Judge Elias says that she is honored to have been given the appointment and looks forward to serving," wrote the spokesperson. "She is aware that there are many important issues to be addressed and she looks forward to working with the other Council members in dealing with them."
With her appointment by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Elias takes the spot vacated by Pines, who often raised questions about projects like the court IT system that has already cost a half-billion dollars but is used in only a few courts. At an October meeting of the Judicial Council, he questioned the now-defunct offer from a pharmaceutical mogul to host that IT system.
The two Los Angeles council members were the only ones to question the offer which was otherwise received by council members with high praise. Three months later, the deal was abandoned.
"This is a $1.9 billion dollar project," said Pines. "We spent $500 million so far. There's at least a billion left. I've got a real question whether in the end this is affordable."
Elias received her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and her law degree from USC.
She was appointed to the Los Angeles trial court in 2000 by former governor Gray Davis, and is currently the supervising judge of its complex civil litigation department. In 2001, she was voted trial judge of the year by the plaintiff lawyer group, Consumer Attorneys of Los Angeles.
She has also been an executive board member of the California Judges Association, a group that includes judges from all the regions of California and that, like the council, has been riven by the issues of funding for the trial courts and the IT project that is sometimes mocked and often reviled.
Among her rulings, Elias last year certified an enormous plaintiff class in an action against DIRECTV, whose subscribers alleged unauthorized charges for early cancellation and unauthorized withdrawals from their bank acccounts.
In 2010, she presided over cases involving sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
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