The judicial branch is contributing money from a fund financed by private donors to document the recollections and reminiscences of former Chief Justice Ronald M. George.
Conducted by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, this project is part of an ongoing effort by the California Supreme Court Historical Society—a nonprofit public benefit corporation—to chronicle the oral history of retired members of the court through interviews, which are transcribed and bound into volumes.
The society has committed to $25,000 to fund the project, and a $5,000 contribution is coming from the Administration of Justice Fund, which is administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts, a spokesperson for the Judicial Council and Supreme Court said yesterday.
She explained the fund was set up as a “depository of gifts and donations found to be in the best interest of the Judicial Branch” in 2002, so that individuals or groups could donate funds to assist the Judicial Council, the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeal, and the AOC “to conduct special outreach activities, events or programs that support the goals of the judicial branch but for which state funds may not be expended or are not available.”
The idea for the fund was raised by Ralph Shapiro, an inactive Beverly Hills attorney, businessman, and philanthropist, the spokesperson said. Shapiro and his wife made the first contribution to the fund and have continued to make donations over the years.
Other donors have included the Shapiro Family and Foundation, the Bernard and Alba Witkin Foundation, the American Judicature Society, and the California Judges Association.
Individual contributions have also come from Los Angeles attorney Thomas Freiberg, retired Court of Appeal Justice Miriam Vogel, and several current and former AOC officials, including Michael Bergeisen, Sheila Calabro, Mark Dusman, Kathleen Howard, Kenneth Kann, Diane Nunn, Ronald Overholt, Chris Patton, Michael Roddy, Stephen Nash, Mary Roberts, Curt Soderlund, Diane Cowdrey, Jody Patel, Curt Child, William Vickrey, and Lee Willoughby.
As of April, the fund had a balance of $41,375.77 and had been used to pay for a state exhibit on Brown vs. Board of Education, part of the California Science and Law Conference, and prizes for the First Amendment Art Contest.
The fund is also used for travel expenses for guest speakers, service awards for employees, floral arrangements upon the death of a judicial officer, and refreshments at branch-related meetings, workshops, and conferences, the spokesperson said.
She added that the fund “makes good sense in these difficult economic times,” as it allows the branch to be a part of this “unique and wonderful opportunity to capture the insights and perspectives of former justices…and in the case of the former chief justices, on the administration of state courts” without spending public funds.
The Alliance of California Judges yesterday issued a statement expressing the group’s adamant view “that no public dollars be spent on this nonessential project” during a time when “trial courts up and down the state are announcing reduced hours of service for the public, due to budget cuts imposed by the Judicial Council.
“Hopefully, those who admire and respect the former chief justice will give generously from their own private funds,” the alliance directors said.
Solicitation letters went out to local law firms last week from the former chief justice’s son, Century City attorney Eric George, asking for additional donations for this project.
The younger George, who serves on the board of the UC Berkeley institute, said that he has been “seeking modest contributions from private firms, groups and individuals” to fund an “extraordinarily worthwhile effort to preserve the history of the state Supreme Court, including my father’s 19-year tenure on that court.”
In a letter, dated Friday, George asks recipients to donate to “a cause that I know will be dear to your heart,” with the suggested tax-deductible contribution being “in the rage of $5,000 to $10,000.”
He said yesterday that the total cost of the project would “depend on how talkative my father is,” and will have to be determined once the interview process is complete.
The oral histories of former Chief Justices Philip S. Gibson and Malcolm M. Lucas, as well as former Justices Jesse W. Carter, Stanley Mosk, Frank C. Newman, Allen E. Broussard, Cruz Reynoso, Joseph Grodin, Edward A. Panelli, John A. Arguelles and Armand Arabian have already been complied.