I WAS AMUSED to read Judge Terrence Boren's recent Marin Voice, encouraging Marin citizens to apply for the civil grand jury.

Judge Boren informed us that "civil grand juries perform an essential service to our democracy as independent 'watchdogs' of local government. They examine practices in government and inform the citizenry on how well those entities are performing their public duties and responsibilities."

The presiding judge's column appeared just days before the celebration honoring our county's most accomplished women: the Marin Women's Hall of Fame induction. One of this year's nine new honorees is retired schoolteacher Jean Taylor, who was honored for her "30 years of volunteer work tackling mounting social crises that many find too daunting to even acknowledge, including homelessness, suicides, and court corruption in Marin County."
The source of my amusement about the judge's column is the fact that distinguished hall of famer Jean Taylor had dutifully applied to serve on the civil grand jury in 2007 and was rejected for service. Her name was not forwarded as one of the final 30 applicants. This is the same Jean Taylor who received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award in 2005. She also has a scholarship in her name at the Marin Education Fund. Jean was awarded the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership's 2008 Heart of Marin Award for Volunteer of the Year as well. She was hardly an untested volunteer in our county.

Perhaps Jean's leadership in calling for more accountability for the judiciary as the board president of the Center for Judicial Excellence was reason enough to deny her this important chance to serve our citizenry? We will never know why she was denied a chance to serve.
What we do know is that the majority of safeguards designed to provide transparency and accountability for government agencies exclude the courts and judges, including the civil grand jury. Additionally, California's judicial employees are not currently protected by the California Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Public Records Act does not apply to the courts.

So who can Marin citizens rely on to inform us about how well the Superior Court in Marin is performing its public duties and responsibilities?

Under Jean Taylor's leadership, the Center for Judicial Excellence worked with state Sen. Mark Leno last summer to secure a unanimous bipartisan vote from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to investigate the Marin Family Court's use of costly appointees in contested divorce cases. As the IJ reported, the California State Auditor is currently investigating the use of these appointees in Marin and Sacramento counties, and their report is due out in July - if the courts cooperate.

This audit provides essential oversight and will help ensure that California family courts are protecting our children and abiding by the rules and laws that govern their operations.

Assemblywomen Bonnie Lowenthal and Audra Strickland have introduced AB 1749, which extends whistleblower protection to judicial employees so that they no longer risk losing their jobs for reporting illegal activity. Assemblyman Jim Beall has introduced AB 2475, which limits judicial immunity for court appointees, making members of this unregulated cottage industry truly accountable for their actions.

It's refreshing to see state lawmakers step up to demand transparency and accountability for the $3.5 billion California judiciary.

The courts should not be exempt from the good-government oversight that Judge Boren praises the civil grand jury for performing, and Jean Taylor and the Center for Judicial Excellence will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that sunshine and oversight is applied to our state's judges and their appointees, while basic protections are also extended to judicial employees.

Kathleen Russell is executive director of the San Rafael-based Center for Judicial Excellence.

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