The assigned judges program is ripe for abuse by the AOC and it is being abused. According to some preliminary statistics gathered from the AOC, about 400 judges served as assigned judges in 2010. Out of those 400 judges, about a third of them (133) sat on the bench managing a courtroom and being re-appointed to the bench every 60 days for many, many years.
In many cases, many of these 133 of the ‘good ol boys club’ retire on a Friday and start collecting their pensions. On Monday, they return to the exact same courtroom they served in previously before they retired and they are earning nearly double their pay.
Prior to their retirement they filled the slot of an elected judicial officer, subject to retention elections and CJP oversight. Once appointed, they are no longer subject to retention elections nor CJP oversight. They are free to roam California’s courtrooms as loose cannons accountable to only the AOC, which as we know, means they are accountable to no one.
Assigned judges are a vehicle under which judges can be backfilled due to absences, workload or challenges and require re-appointment to the bench by the chief justice every 30-60 days. These are intended as temporary assignments and while most assigned judges might spend no more than 90 days per year sitting on the bench, some of the assigned judges ‘good ol boys club’ have been sitting as an assigned judge in the same courtroom, collecting two salaries for greater than 10 years. This brings us to the controversial use of perpetual appointment as an abuse of authority. Does the Chief Justice have the right to appoint and re-appoint a judge to the bench for years at a time and undermine the will of the electorate?
Meet Retired Judge Jack Halpin of Shasta County. Retired from the bench, he has been re-appointed in perpetuity since 1994 – for over seventeen years. While he should have been subject to three retention elections, he is above the law and has been subjected to no retention elections. It must be nice to be Jack Halpin.
With only AOC oversight (and we all know how that goes: bury the dirt and leave no trace) and the locals questioning weather or not Judge Halpin suffers from dementia the sole determinant of his fitness for the bench is two hundred miles south inside the AOC.
Of course, having no method whatsoever to determine Judge Halpin’s fitness for the bench and for his respected service as a member of the “good ol boy’s club” Judge Halpin enjoys the uncommon perk of absolute judicial immunity. He is fit for the bench because the AOC re-assigned him to the bench and that’s the end of it. All complaints against Jack Halpin spanning over a decade are without merit because the AOC says they are. Of course, should anyone actually file suit to question this, it will be the same group that appointed him that will work to defend him. They will pay for and pick the counsel, they will choose the venue and the judge to hear any such case. Unlike judges going before the CJP who must get their own legal counsel, Judge Halpin can rely on a far higher power to defend him in the AOC.