AUG. 11, 1999


The "JAIL 4 Judges" campaign has been given the go-ahead to collect signatures for a ballot initiative that would eliminate judges immunity from civil liability for actions taken on the bench, Secretary of State Bill Jones announced late Monday.

To put their proposal on the ballot, proponents of the "Judicial Accountability Initiative Law" must collect 670,816 signature of registered Ca. voters by Jan. 6.

Author Ronald Branson, 53, of North Hills, said eliminating judges' immunity would make jurists more accountable to the public.

"Through my experience in the judicial system, I found that the judicial system is completely deteriorating so that justice is a thing that's almost extinct," Branson said.

Specifically, he said judges ignore the Fourth Amendment rights of people who have been accused of violating traffic laws. He said he has been involved in several such cases.

And the Commission on Judicial Performance "has done nothing, by and large, but cover up for wayward judges," Branson added.

The initiative would create three 25 member grand juries--drawn from voter rolls, but excluding lawyers or judges-- especially to consider cases involving judicial wrongdoing. The grand jurors could issue "strikes" against judges, and could order removal of a judge after three strikes.

"All allegations of the complaint shall be liberally construed in favor of the complainant," the initiative states.

It also warns jurors " not to be swayed by artful presentation by the judge."

Wrongdoing could include" deliberate disregard of material facts, judicial acts without jurisdiction, blocking of a lawful conclusion of a case, or any deliberate violations of the Constitution of California or the United States."

The grand jurors would enjoy the same type of immunity that proponents are seeking to take away from judges. The measure contains a clause granting civil liability immunity for any person " exercising strict enforcement of the findings" of the special grand juries.

The initiative would cost the state about $17 million a year for the operation of special grand juries, according to the legislative analyst and the State Department of Finance.

Some of the cost would be offset, however, by the initiative's provisions to reduce all judges' salaries 2.5 per cent and to cut in half the retirement benefits of judges removed from office by the "three strikes" rule.

Huntington Beach lawyer Phil Putman said he is helping the campaign because judges " are depriving people of their civil rights off-hand."

Putman said he anticipates that even if the initiative earns a place on the ballot and is approved by voters, judges will declare it unconstitutional. He added, however, that he has "a lot more confidence in the federal judges," who might uphold the measure.

The lawyer, who has practiced for 28 years, also is waging a more local war against judges. He said he is preparing to file a class-action suit against Orange County judges on behalf of approximately 100 litigants who allege they have been derived of due process, equal protection and civil rights.

"After this initiative, I'll probably be disbarred, but I don't care," Putman added. " I've had about enough of this crap anyway."

California Judges Association lobbyist Mike Belote said his organization probably won't take a formal position on the measure unless it qualifies for the ballot. But he said the initiative appears to violate the free speech, due process and other rights of judges.

"It's so full of constitutional infirmity that you could almost pick any section of the Constitution and this initiative violates it, " Belote said.

Branson said his campaign will need about $1 million to pay for the signature-gathering process.

He said he will us the Internet and advertisements to gather the money and signatures.

He has created a temporary web site at

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