Madam Chief Justice and Members of the Council,
I have the privilege of having been appointed to the bench in 1987. The calendar thus insists that I’ve been a judge for 25 years. I certainly don’t claim that that quarter century has conferred on me encyclopedic wisdom, but it has provided some perspective. And it seems to me that perspective is greatly needed as we all work together to lead the branch forward.
The California judiciary is one of the best in the world. Yet, it is no secret that we, like the State and people we serve, face substantial challenges.
History tells us that when big challenges arise, people become anxious and sometimes angry. In those circumstances they want and need wise leaders in whom they can repose confidence.
It is, of course, the responsibility of the Chief Justice and the Council, but more broadly, all of California’s judges to provide that leadership.
The process the Chief Justice initiated has done its work – diligently, independently, and with broad input. Everybody in the branch got a chance to voice their concerns and their frustrations. Everybody got a chance to offer suggestions.
The process hasn’t been easy. It certainly hasn’t been fun. And, as with all important and difficult undertakings, it has not been without controversy and some acrimony.
But you now have a clear and candid report on branch governance. Reasonable minds may certainly differ about some of the particulars. That’s why the report is subject to analysis and review.
But broadly, we have looked backwards and identified some substantial shortcomings and things that should change. It is now time, however, to look forward and determine how to make constructive progress.
This is where the concept of perspective comes in.
The report rightly faults some past decision-making as lacking in deliberation and cooperation. Fair enough. But let’s not repeat those shortcomings. Let’s make sure that we do deliberate about the findings and recommendations and do so as part of an ongoing dialogue.
A major theme of the report is the need for openness, transparency and cooperation. Let us all remember that each of those laudable goals is a two way street.
There may be some who will insist that you listen to them and them alone. That their views and only their views have merit.
Some may act in the glow of enlightened self interest.
Some may speak in the heat of untempered zeal or dissatisfaction.
This is, of course, their right.
But I suggest that today we should agree to turn a page. While we can learn from our history, we cannot change it. While we cannot change our history, we can, and must, responsibly guide our future.
Oh sure, we can continue to look backward, focus on blame and nurse our grudges. We can talk at each other rather than speak with each other. Or we can take a deep breath; remember that we are professionals, entrusted with substantial responsibilities; and resolve to work together as partners, rather than fight as adversaries. To reason, rather than demand; to discern, rather than dictate.
The report you have received makes a number of suggestions. But perhaps our greatest challenge is to work together to see that mutural confidence and cooperation are restored and built upon. This is a collective, mutual process.
That is not to say that we will always agree. Bright and insightful people of goodwill do sometimes disagree. Often the best ideas flow from their ongoing discussions about those different views.
Recognizing all this we should commit ourselves to being what we have been trained to be: deliberative, informed, smart decision makers who honestly work together to find solutions in the spirit of cooperation.
As we turn this page we have a new Chief and a new Council. We will have a restructured Administrative Office under a new leader.
Much work remains and new challenges will surely arise. We can meet them if all parts of the branch watch closely, share openly, discuss collegially and work together to serve the People of California from whom, we should not forget, our authority derives.