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Thursday, May 30, 2024 | Back issues
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Speak With One Voice

Our Chief Justice and now Justice Baxter have remarked that we must speak with one voice if we wish to preserve the judicial branch.

The obvious problem with "Speak With One Voice" ( SWOV), when an organization takes that position, is that there are different opinions among the members of the organization. In order to SWOV it means, by necessity, the suppression of dissident voices.

SWOV is not possible at this time for the judicial branch because it pretends there is "one voice" when everyone knows that there are "numerous voices".

Let us look at some possibilities:

1) SWOV works when there is total agreement on one legitimate opinion. An example would be the opinion that judges should not take bribes.

2) What does one do when there are several legitimate opinions but all of the leaders of the organization only embrace one legitimate opinion?

This is an example of how the Judicial Council works. Because almost all members of the Judicial Council agree on an opinion they believe, as in 1., that this opinion is the only legitimate opinion.

As a result of this thinking, the Judicial Council finds it very difficult to acknowledge other views respectfully. SWOV is more important to them than admitting that other people may have a different but legitimate opinion.

Allowing opinion diversity is very hard for every organization.

In the typical business or military group there can be a diversity of opinion but when the boss or military leader makes a decision it is expected that everyone will fall into line. SWOV works for business and military groups.

SWOV, however, does not work for judges because we are not part of a business or a military organization.

We are loyal to the laws of the United States and to the laws of California and to the public. Our oath of office is not to an individual or to a judicial organization. The failure to understand this basic concept has caused much mischief.

I agree that internal disagreements within the judicial branch can undermine public confidence. Pretending, however, to SWOV when there is really a diversity of opinion also undermines public confidence in the judicial branch. The public knows we are not telling the truth.

Shall we pretend to the Legislature and to the public that we have had a robust debate about budget priorities when we have not had such a debate?

Shall we pretend to the Legislature and to the public that we have reached a consensus on budget priorities when we have not reached such a consensus?

I agree that inconsistent and dissenting voices within the judiciary should be avoided if this can be done without sacrifice of principle.

But the Legislature and the public can handle the truth.

They can handle the truth that different opinions as to budget priorities illustrate that the choices we face are difficult, uncertain, and imperfect. SWOV, when there is legitimate dissent, treats Governor Brown, the Legislature and the public as if they were unsophisticated schoolchildren.

We judges can best represent the public by being honest with them by admitting that we have different opinions as to how to handle our present and future economic difficulties. We do not best represent the public by pretending to speak with one voice when, in fact, there are numerous voices.

The letter above represents the opinion of Judge Maino only and should not be taken as the official position of San Diego Superior Court.

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