California Lawyers Foundation
Foundation-Funded Education Campaign Combats Unfair Attacks on Judges and Judicial Branch
By Oyango A. Snell
This spring, with the help of a grant from the California Lawyers Foundation (CLF), a coalition of lawyers and judges launched a public education and engagement campaign to help combat one-sided attacks against judges. The campaign aims to demystify the third branch of government, abate unfair criticism of judges and the judiciary, and reinforce the importance of an impartial judiciary.
II. GENESIS OF THE JUDICIAL FAIRNESS COALITION
a. Santa Clara County Recall Election
The California Judges Association (CJA) formed the Judicial Fairness Coalition (JFC) in 2018 after public criticism fueled the recall of Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky.
Recall backers had condemned Persky for his handling of a Stanford University sexual assault case. They believed his six-month sentence for the defendant was too light.
Bar associations, law deans and professors, and federal and state judges, active and retired, united to defend and support Persky. They pointed out that removing judges for simply following the law, as Persky did, threatens the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. Judges must remain free from pressure and influence in order to make decisions based on facts and the law.
b. Coalition's Early Work
The CJA formalized the coalition. One of its next steps was to help change the code of judicial ethics, which had prevented Persky from defending himself during the recall campaign.
The recall also highlighted greater public misconceptions about the role of judges and courts, said Judge Paul Bacigalupo. He sits on the Los Angeles County Superior Court and serves as the JFC founding co-chair.
“There is very little information publicly available for voters about the judiciary, and the profound importance of the third branch of government, and its independence,” he said. “Civic engagement is perhaps more important now than ever before, and we have the ability to serve the public by making information more accessible.”
In response, the coalition conducted five statewide symposiums to help educate the public and has been monitoring attacks on the judiciary.
But the coalition wanted to do even more to reach voters across the state.
Judges are already educators in their courtrooms. When presiding over a jury trial or addressing the public in court, judges instruct jurors, defendants, and the public about court procedures and the law.
III. MEETING PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE
Judge Bacigalupo said that the coalition’s new campaign hopes to reach people where they are—via social media and other outlets—to educate them before the next attack occurs. The coalition is using consultants to build the campaign and measure its effects.
Posts on the coalition’s Facebook page explain how the California courts are organized, the importance of jury duty, and the role of the special master in court proceedings. Its Twitter page has shared infographics explaining the role of trial court judges, the origin of judicial power, and how the Supreme Court establishes constitutionality.
“It’s about educating and preparing the next generation to be informed and engaged adults who need to have access to the courts and have trust and confidence in the courts,” he said.
The coalition is also educating judges about using social media so they can feel comfortable engaging in public conversation within the ethical restraints. The rules prevent judges from speaking about pending cases unless they are the subject of a recall.
“We were grateful to receive this grant from the foundation,” Bacigalupo said. “We want to build and maintain a social media presence that will have effective messaging.”
IV. ROLE OF LAWYERS
Because of their role as officers of the court, lawyers have a special obligation to help educate the public and safeguard the rule of law.
Recognizing that not all lawyers practice in the courts, the coalition has created resources like scripts and PowerPoint presentations to make it easy for judges and lawyers to further educate the public during appearances at schools and local community meetings.
Attorneys can sign up to give a class presentation through CLA. Learn more about the opportunities or email CLA Initiatives Manager Lauren Oakley at email@example.com for more information.
V. WHY SUPPORT THE CALIFORNIA LAWYERS FOUNDATION?
Formed in 2019, the California Lawyers Foundation is the charitable arm and partner of the California Lawyers Association. Both organizations share a joint mission of promoting excellence, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession and fairness in the administration of justice and the rule of law.
The foundation also funded the California Free Legal Answers Platform, which helps people navigate legal questions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, and other disasters. Aid recipients were low-income residents who otherwise did not have access to legal services. A foundation grant also helped the Legal Education Access Pipeline (LEAP) expand its efforts to prepare students from disadvantaged backgrounds for law school and legal careers.
Read more about the foundation’s work.
VI. PARTNERING WITH CLF
CLF welcomes donations from individuals, firms, companies, and foundations to help support its growing list of projects. The foundation has a Gift Acceptance Policy with details on how to contribute and the types of gifts accepted. In addition, CLF is interested in potentially co-sponsoring and supporting projects. To that end, the foundation has created a Co-Sponsorship Policy that outlines the requirements. In addition, there are other ways to support the work CLF does. There are numerous ways to participate in the foundation, from Facebook campaigns to Amazon SMILE designations. Visit the CLF website for more information.
Oyango A. Snell is the CEO and Executive Director of the California Lawyers Foundation.