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George says goodbye to the State Bar

Ron George
Chief Justice Ronald George

California Chief Justice Ronald M. George said he could not have decided to end his long career as a jurist had the courts’ financial status not improved in the past year. “I could not in good conscience leave this post if California’s judiciary remained enmeshed in a severe budget crisis,” George said in his final address to the State Bar last month. Nevertheless, he added, “through the efforts of many within and outside the judicial branch and the bar, the resource issues facing the courts have been resolved in a manner that will get us through the difficult budget year that lies ahead, without compromising our ability to provide fair and accessible justice to the individuals and institutions who come before the courts.”

George announced in July that he will not seek confirmation to another 12-year term in next month’s election and will leave the bench Jan. 2.

Reflecting on his 38 years as a judge, George said the structural changes achieved during his term have transformed the judicial branch into a more effective, accessible and accountable system of government than when he assumed his position. In particular, the unification of California’s municipal and superior courts, state funding for the trial courts and the transfer and sometimes the ownership of court facilities from counties to the state helped stabilize and strengthen the judicial branch, he said.

“These historic reforms,” he said, “. . . have addressed many of the institutional budget inequities among trial courts around the state. And ultimately they have enhanced access to justice and provided a greater degree of accountability by the courts to the public they serve.”

Despite leaving a judicial branch stronger than the one he found when first appointed to the bench in 1972, George said enormous challenges remain. There are too few judges, particularly in areas where the population has greatly surpassed the addition of new judicial positions, he said. And he urged changes to the judicial retirement system in order to attract and retain high-quality judges.

“Justice is not simply a luxury to be adequately funded only in prosperous years,” George said. “Times will continue to be hard — but together we must not just stand still or, worse yet, slip backwards, when confronted by the increasing demands upon the court system and the decreasing resources available to state government. We must continue with the progress we have made in expanding access to justice.”