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The Bird court has been extremely efficient, handling a 1983-84 workload that was 72% greater than in 1975-76, the last full fiscal year preceding Chief Justice Bird's appointment.1 The California Supreme Court was in a state of disarray before Rose Bird was appointed Chief Justice on March 11, 1977, not after.2
Chief Justice Bird has mired the court in controversy and delayed cases for political purposes.3
The California Supreme Court, in the fiscal year 1975-76, transacted 6,035 pieces of business (appeals, petitions for hearing, rehearings, transfers, and routine/miscellaneous), while in the fiscal year 1983-84 total business transacted numbered 10,420,4 representing a 72% increase. The state Attorney General, in a speech delivered to the California Newspaper Publishers Association on February 13, 1985, said, "This has been one of the hardest working courts in the history of the court."5
In late 1976, the state Commission on Judicial Performance launched an investigation into charges that Justice Marshall McComb was no longer able to carry out his responsibilities. On January 7, 1977, largely on the basis of testimony by his fellow justices, the Commission recommended that he be removed from the court on grounds of "permanent mental disability." On May 2, 1977, a special tribunal of seven state Court of Appeal justices ordered McComb to retire due to "disabling senility."6
An article published on the morning of Chief Justice Bird's last confirmation election, in the November 7, 1978 edition of the Los Angeles Times, suggested that members of the court had delayed releasing controversial completed case decisions (including the People v. Tanner "use-a-gun, go-to-prison" case) until after the election.7 In response to the charges, Chief Justice Bird called for an investigation by the Commission on Judicial Performance. The Commission began a public investigation into the charges, but Associate Justice Stanley Mosk filed suit in the state Court of Appeal on the basis that a provision in the state Constitution mandated that all hearings regarding judicial misconduct must remain confidential. The suit was successful, and the hearings resumed behind closed doors. On November 5, 1979, the Commission on Judicial Performance issued a short statement clearing all of the Supreme Court justices of any misconduct.8
The Commission on Judicial Performance is composed of two judges from the courts of appeal, two judges from superior courts, one judge from municipal court, two members of the California State Bar who have practiced law in the state for a minimum of ten years, and two citizens (not judges, retired judges or members of the State Bar) appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate.9
1 Judicial Council of California, 1985 Annual Report, p. 86.
2 Medsger, Better, Framed -- The New Right Attack on Chief Justice Rose Bird and the Courts, (The Pilgrim Press: New York, 1983), pp. 43-45.
3 Californians to Defeat Rose Bird, campaign literature, I:C.
4 Judicial Council of California, 1985 Annual Report, p. 86.
5 Los Angeles Daily Journal, "Fairness Needed in Justices' Confirmation Debate," by John Van De Kamp, Feb. 22, 1985, p. 4.
6 Los Angeles Times, "Justice McComb, Forced Off State Court in '77, Dies," by Jerry Belcher, Sept. 7, 1981, p.3.
7 Los Angeles Times, "Supreme Court Decision to Reverse Gun Law Reported," by William Endicott and Robert Fairbanks, Nov. 7, 1978, p. 1.
8 Los Angeles Times, "State Supreme Court Cleared of Charges," by Philip Hager, Nov. 6, 1979,p. 1.
9 California Constitution, Article VI, Section 8.