Monday, January 30, 2012

People v. Johnson (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Jan. 30, 2012)

It's always nice to be cited by a court.  Especially when the citation is with approval.  Particularly when the court that's giving the compliment is the highest court in the state.  And even more so when, as in this case, the citation is accompanied by a description that expressly says that your piece is "thoughtful".

And, no, this isn't self-congratulation.  Rather, that's what the California Supreme Court says today about two recent law review articles.  One of the pieces is by an assistant professor at the University of Florida Law School, E. Lea Johnston.  Add that to the tenure application.  The other is by Jason R. Marks, who's a research attorney at the California Supreme Court.  Always good to be given a compliment by your boss.  I figure it's time for Jason to ask for a raise.  (Good luck with that.)

It might be even nicer if the California Supreme Court actually did what Ms. Johnston and/or Mr. Marks suggested.  But they elect not to.  Today's holding nonetheless does something productive.  It holds that California courts can deny self-representation to criminal defendants who are competent to stand trial but nonetheless (essentially) incompetent to represent themselves.  The Constitution allows state courts to take such a position, and the California Supreme Court elects to do so.

There are pros and cons of such an approach, but in my view, the upsides outweigh the downsides.  And the justices agree, which is why today's decision is unanimous.

There's more work to be done here, for sure.  But this decision is at least a step in the right direction.