Rose Bird BACK

Chief Justice Bird's Administration of the Court

Pro   Con

Chief Justice Bird has been widely praised for her administrative competence and innovations.1 She has expanded the pool of judges filling temporary vacancies on the court to include judges from superior and municipal courts, in addition to drawing judges from the traditional pro tem source -- the Courts of Appeal.2 Because friends and relatives of vereran court employees were being hired as court clerks and secretaries, the Chief Justice instituted a new Civil Service-model hiring process in the appellate courts.3 Chief Justice Bird helped created the California Appellate Project to process the backlog of death penalty cases, and she was responsible for the publication of a 56-page pamphlet outlining the history and decision-making process of the California Supreme Court.4 Chief Justice Bird also campaigned for the passage of Proposition 32, a measure designed to help expedite the court's caseload, and she had the court's record-keeping system computerized.5


Chief Justice Bird's administration of the court has been poor. Her administrative policies have antagonized veteran court employees.6 The Chief Justice has packed the California Supreme Court, hand-picking lower-court judges who agree with her decisions to fill temporary vacancies on the court, without regard for their merit, scholarship, or experience.7

AMA Commentary

On May 6, 1985, the California Supreme Court began operating under new procedural rules required by the passage of Proposition 32 in the November 1984 election. Under the previous rules, once the Supreme Court granted a hearing, the original opinion issued by the court of appeal ceased to exist, and the Supreme Court issued a completely new opinion based on the events occurring in the trial court. This left no predictable indicator of the Supreme Court's interest or intent in taking a case. Under the new rules, the Supreme Court can review one or more significant issues without redeciding the entire case -- a practice followed by the United States Supreme Court and the courts of most other states.8 Chief Justice Bird was a strong proponent of Proposition 32.9

According to a 1985 study conducted by the University of San Francisco Law Review, there is no evidence to support the charge that Chief Justice Bird assigns pro tem justices in order to influence the judicial process. The study analyzed 208 cases in which pro tem justices were assigned by the Chief Justice between January 1980 and April 1985. In 37 cases, a pro tem justice's vote was required to reach a concurrence of four justices. Of those 37 cases, pro tem justices voted with Chief Justice Bird 15 times and disagreed with the Chief Justice 14 times. In the eight other cases in which two pro tem justices voted, one voted with the Chief Justice and one did not.10

1 Los Angeles Times, "Bird Praised for Improved Administration of Courts," by Dan Morain, April 20, 1986, I:1.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Walsh, Joan, op. cit., p. 24.
6 Californians to Defeat Rose Bird, campaign literature, 1 C.
7 Bradbury, Michael C., "This is not an Imperial Court," June 1985, reprint, Californians to Defeat Rose Bird, campaign literature, IV. A.
8 Stone, Hon. Steven J. and Katherine Stone, "New Rules of the Game," Los Angeles Lawyer, October, 1985, p. 44.
9 San Francisco Examiner, "Facing Judgment" The Rose Bird Court," by Stephen Cook and K. Connie Kang, special supplement, January 5, 1986, p. 6.
10 Wildman, Stephanie M. and Denise Whitehead, "A Study of Pro Tempore Assignments in the California Supreme Court," USC Law Review, Fall 1985, Vo. 20:1, p. 1.