Order in the courts? How about in the Judicial Council and the AOC?

Posted on September 19, 2011

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This weekend the California Judges Association held a meeting in Long Beach. One section of that meeting was moderated by Judge Michael P. Vicencia and was themed “Order in the courts”.

As the Courthouse News article suggests, more than a few judges were hopping mad at an AOC legislative attempt to transform governance to ensure that the AOC was left in charge of the trial courts. Additional issues included the selection of tone-deaf appointees of the Judicial Council who seemingly follow whatever the AOC suggests, endorsing anything that the AOC does regardless of the legal ramifications.

A judge wanted to know about a bill in the Legislature that would have given central bureaucrats the power to appoint the head clerk of every local trial court, a measure that would have taken away much of the authority of local presiding judges to run their courthouses. The questioner asked why the measure was drafted and who was behind the move. From the panel at the front of the room, Appellate Justice Douglas Miller said Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter had withdrawn the bill because he had been blindsided by the proposal. “Why was it drafted in the first place?” Judge Lance Ito of Los Angeles shouted out. “Why don’t you have the answer?” shouted Judge Timothy Fall from Yolo County.

Miller ultimately said he did not know why the measure was drafted, but knew the staff member responsible

Appellate Justice Douglas Miller is now the chair of the Executive & Planning Committee, the single most powerful position behind the chief justice on the Judicial Council. Prior to Mr. Miller, it was Mr. Huffman that chaired this committee when this maneuver was committed. Judges, court employees and the public are upset about primarily two things: Transparency and accountability. If any one person is or was responsible for a legislative effort to profoundly change the laws as well as judicial branch governance as Mr. Miller suggests, both transparency and accountability dictate that this person is identified and publicly reprimanded or fired. The public has a right to know. Judges and Justices have a right to know. Court employees that serve the people of the state of California deserve the right to know and everyone, including our perp deserves to see some accountability happen over the issue as this was not an insignificant matter easily dismissed. People are growing more angry and not less angry as time goes by and more people discover the truth.

With respect to Judge Kevin McCormick’s request for contracting information and the lizard Roberts intent to not disclose any information with respect to contracts issued before October 1, 2011, these too are issues of both transparency and accountability. As the AOC has previously illustrated if you give them a milimeter, they will take a thousand miles. Disclosure of ALL contracts currently in force is what the judges, court workers, the legislature and the public deserve. Mr. Miller can talk about how transparent the Judicial Council has become because they permit public comment now but the rubber meets the road on what you do, not merely what you say. The responsibility and the proper directive to disclose this information was made by the chair Strategic Evaluation Committee. In fact, Justice Scotland and his committee would be derelict in their duties in not considering this exact same information that Judge Kevin McCormick requested of the AOC. By all accounts, both Vickrey and Kann were responsible for coming up with this information and then they retired.

In our minds, the responsibility for coming up with these answers now falls on Tonto’s shoulders. Ron Overholt should produce these answers within a time certain – or face dismissal. It is all about transparency and accountability these days. Transparency and Accountability should also serve to dismiss Mr. Moore for not adhering to a judicial council ordered pause in CCMS development AND continuing to employ a half million dollars per year worth of additional contractors for at least an additional three years. Over the course of five years these same contractors equate to the loan granted San Francisco and there was the last 5 million that was spent before year end on the last 20+ contractors related to CCMS and long term contracts.

Nobody has faith in governance when the governed appear to be ungovernable, when transparency is a big secret and when accountability is non-existent.

Maria Dinzeo’s article goes on to state:

The get-together came at a time freighted with disagreement over how policy is set and money is spent in the courts. State Representative Bonnie Lowenthal, Democrat from Long Beach, was on the panel at Friday’s session. Referring to efforts to fix the problems in the courts with legislation, she said that one thing her experience had taught her is that “You don’t want to have it done to you.”  Lowenthal pressed on the difference between internal matters of policy at the courts and the handling of public money, which is disbursed by the Legislature. She said a recent proposal favored by many trial judges and trial courts as a whole, called the trial court bill of rights, involved matters best handled within the judicial branch. “If the Legislature sees mismanagement,” she warned. “that’s another thing.”

Quite a few legislators have decried mismanagement including Bonnie Lowenthal who asked for Vickrey to be dismissed. Not a whole lot has changed in that respect. Now the AOC is led by another character whose resume includes other information technology application boondoggles, most notably in Alameda County. We’re not sure that Ms. Lowenthal is looking at the same tea leaves we are but what we see is that issues of governance remain entrusted with a very select few loyalists, some of questionable character, all appointed or backed by our chief justice. Given the considerable lobbying power that consumer attorneys and others have over judges in the legislature, we too are willing to bet that the legislative solution would not necessarily be to the judges liking. Short of taking the issues directly to the people via the initiative process or convincing our chief justice to change course or a concerted and considerable lobbying effort being made to every legislator by judges statewide, we’re not sure that things will change because the people are in charge that don’t want change.  They sit in the catbirds seat and that is not going to change voluntarily.