At LAO there’s a new Sheriff in town

Posted on April 16, 2012

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Welcome to a glorious Monday morning California! There’s a few events and some encouraging movement occurring and it generally appears to be in a more positive direction for the people and a less positive direction for the bureaucrats.

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The evolving Judicial Council/AOC  crisis management strategy is to present the appearance that they’re making rational and prudent decisions of their own volition.  Critics like us that have been consistent critics of those things they’re just beginning to think about changing played no part in their glorious leadership decisions they wish you to know. Your voice played no part in elimination of two courthouses and reconsideration about the needs of thirteen others. You played no part in the termination of the CCMS program. Your voice didn’t influence where CCMS ‘shutdown funds’ are directed to. And the LAO has no influence on JC policy either. 

Uh-huh. Sure.

The fact of the matter is you have them on the ropes and on the run and you need to sustain the momentum.

There’s a new Sheriff in town…

…over at the Legislative Analysts Office and her name is Anita Lee. You probably remember the previous Judicial Branch assigned analyst, Drew Soderberg. During his tenure as covering analyst one might have developed this vision of Mr. S coming home to an AOC provided harem every night that was helping him with his….. understanding of things.  The result: Puzzling, poorly researched analysis and right out of the AOC playbook – recommendations towards branch centralization.

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It was quite refreshing after all of that Drew spew to read and review a mostly well researched, fair and impartial analysis titled “The 2012-2013 Budget – Managing Ongoing Reductions to the Judicial Branch” . The bad part is in the title of course and that is the ‘manage ongoing reductions‘ part. In the body of material contained therein are a number of tidbits that indicate this analyst knows more about checks and balances than all of Team George combined.  Solid, well  thought out recommendations that should be executed by the legislature. The only item we didn’t necessarily agree with the esteemed analyst was on the issue of electronic court reporting because we’ve seen the garbage that can result.  Take the read for a refreshing spin. It will be better than the spin that will be coming from the chief justice today.

Takeover rally?

Word on the street is that there just might be a takeover rally on Wednesday to ensure that everyone knows about AOC waste, corruption and inept management as being the principal reasons for ongoing reductions and the primary reason AB1208 should be passed.

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Message from the Alliance of California Judges in response to the LAO report

April 14, 2012

Dear Members and Others,

Friday afternoon the Legislative Analyst’s Office issued its report on the status of the judicial branch budget. This report will be used by the legislature to make decisions during the budget process.  The report can be viewed at  http://www.lao.ca.gov/analysis/2012/crim_justice/managing-ongoing-reductions-041312.pdf

After reviewing the report, the Alliance released the following statement:

The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) just released its report entitled, “Managing Ongoing Reductions to the Judicial Branch.”
The Alliance of California Judges is generally pleased with most of the recommendations in the report, although it highlights what we have recently pointed out in our budget analysis: few funds remain to further mitigate the effect of the drastic cuts that have been made to the judicial branch.
 
The LAO wisely concludes that the Judicial Council should not be given authority to apportion budget cuts to the trial courts. Instead that policy decision should be made by the legislature. That position is in line with AB1208, the Trial Court Rights Act, and recognizes that the Judicial Council has repeatedly failed in its mission to prioritize spending and preserve public dollars.
The Alliance also agrees with the LAO that, in the wake of the more than a half billion dollars wasted by the council on CCMS, any funds that were slated for that failed project must be redirected to the local courts. Budget language must be in place to ensure that the project is truly terminated and those dollars get to the trial courts immediately.
 
The LAO’s recommendation that construction funds be redirected to the trial courts, unless construction is actually underway, bears serious consideration. While we acknowledge that some courts need new facilities because of significant security risks, the Alliance opposes the exorbitant costs associated with the construction program run by the Administrative Office of the Courts. We believe that the legislature should carefully scrutinize this program in light of other instances of mismanagement by the AOC. Building expensive new courthouses while other courts are closing cannot be justified.
 
Finally, as judges who actually preside over cases and manage court budgets, we know that the LAO’s estimate of savings that would flow from increased use of electronic recording of court proceedings is totally unrealistic. The LAO cites to a study almost 20 years old as support for the conclusion that potential ongoing savings would approach $100 million per year. Nearly every court has greatly increased the use of electronic reporting over the past 20 years. An accurate record is essential to protect the right to appeal and a recording is not an adequate substitute in many important proceedings. We would support further reductions to the AOC and Judicial Council budgets to achieve additional savings, however, as neither entity has any direct effect on the delivery of justice at the local court level.

Clearly, the LAO understands that the governance structure of our branch does not contain sufficient safeguards to ensure that public funds are managed in a prudent and transparent fashion. We agree. That is why it is essential that AB1208 becomes law and that the Judicial Council be democratized. Rest assured that the Alliance remains committed to these reforms.

We have also included an article on the subject by Maria Dinzeo of the Courthouse News Service.

We thank you for your continued support.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges_____________________________________________

Legislative Analyst Says More Money Should Go To CA Courts

By MARIA DINZEO

(CN) – In a report released late Friday, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office is pushing for the Legislature to exercise more control over the judiciary’s finances by recommending that it reject Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to give the Judicial Council the authority to allocate this year’s budget cuts. The Legislative Analyst also recommended that any money the council is not going to spend on a terminated statewide court IT project should go directly to keeping trial courts running.
“Given the magnitude of the proposed budget reductions and the limited availability of special fund balances to offset the ongoing reductions, decisions about how the cuts are allocated would likely have significant impacts on public access to the courts, as well as court operations and projects. We recommend the Legislature establish its own funding priorities for the judicial branch rather than leaving such discretion entirely to the Judicial Council,” the LAO report said.

Anita Lee, who prepared the report, said the Legislature needs to have a say in how to deal with this year’s massive $302 million cut to the branch. In the past when the Legislature has appropriated money to the judiciary, the council has decided how to allocate that money among the trial courts, supreme court, courts of appeal, and its administrative office. If the LAO’s recommendation is adopted, lawmakers will play a greater role in how the money is allocated.

“It’s more that the Legislature should have voice in the process. So in that recommendation, it does say the Legislature is doing this in consultation with the branch. The Legislature would basically be providing funding priorities,” Lee said. “The overarching role of the Legislature is to appropriate funds. On top of that there is the magnitude of the reduction that still needs to be addressed this year. $302 million is quite large.”

The bureaucracy at the top of the courts have been fighting for the council to keep its power over the budget. At a recent council meeting, lobbyist Curt Child with the Administrative Office of the Courts said he has been negotiating with lawmakers and the Governor for the council to retain its authority over administering the budget cuts.

“I think what is crucial as an important component in our discussions that we’re having is that in fact this body be given the discretion to make the determinations, how to best allocate the reductions,” Child said.
Child could not be reached for comment Friday.

In an interview Friday, Judge David Lampe from Kern County Superior Court, director of the reform-minded Alliance of California Judges, rejected the argument that legislation intended to ensure courts are fully funded will strip the council of its constitutional power.
“The Judicial Council has no constitutional authority over the budget or the trial courts. They’re not our boss. They’re given statutory authority by the Legislature. For anybody to say they have constitutional authority over the budget- it’s absolutely wrong,” Lampe said. He added that the LAO’s findings are in line with AB 1208, a bill sponsored by the Alliance that if made law, will allocate all money meant for court operations directly to the courts.

“That’s basically what we’re saying with AB 1208, that the Legislature should direct the money to trial courts and not give it to the Judicial Council,” Lampe said. The bill, introduced by Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon (D-Los Angeles), passed in the Assembly in January and awaits assignment to a committee in the Senate. “The LAO wisely concludes that the Judicial Council should not be given authority to apportion budget cuts to the trial courts,” said an Alliance statement issued Friday. “Instead that policy decision should be made by the legislature. That position is in line with AB1208, the Trial Court Rights Act, and recognizes that the Judicial Council has repeatedly failed in its mission to prioritize spending and preserve public dollars.”

At a judges conference last fall, Assembly member Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), hinted that the Legislature would step in on budget matters if necessary. “If the Legislature sees mismanagement,” she said, “that’s another thing.” The LAO’s report also recommended that the $46 million the council planned to spend on its discontinued Court Case Management System this year be handed over to the courts. The council voted to pull the plug on the project last month, citing a lack of money, but many judges decried the system as a boondoggle and blasted by the State Auditor last year. The council spent over $500 million on CCMS over 9-year period, but the auditor said costs would likely reach $2 billion.

The LAO further urged that a $16 million rebate from the system’s developer Deloitte also go to the courts.

“In the wake of the more than a half billion dollars wasted by the council on CCMS, any funds that were slated for that failed project must be redirected to the local courts,” said the Alliance statement. “Budget language must be in place to ensure that the project is truly terminated and those dollars get to the trial courts immediately.”

Other recommendations included approval of $50 million in increased civil filing fees and cancellation or delay of courthouse construction projects. The LAO’ s report said the roughly $1.6 billion budgeted for 12 new courthouses could go toward keeping existing courthouses open.

The Alliance expressed reservations at that suggestion. “The LAO’s recommendation that construction funds be redirected to the trial courts, unless construction is actually underway, bears serious consideration,” their statement said. “While we acknowledge that some courts need new facilities because of significant security risks, the Alliance opposes the exorbitant costs associated with the construction program run by the Administrative Office of the Courts. We believe that the legislature should carefully scrutinize this program in light of other instances of mismanagement by the AOC. Building expensive new courthouses while other courts are closing cannot be justified.”

The Judicial Council was not immediately available for comment on the report. Appellate Justice Brad Hill, a member of the council’s construction committee, said in a statement, “We are now in a significantly different economic climate. After years of budget cuts in the courts, we now need to look more carefully at whether we can build smaller court projects and still meet court needs, or how else we may be able to save money. We should take strong action to ensure that we are spending public money as prudently as possible.”

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Message from the next AOC retiree and current interim director Jody Patel

From: Patel, Jody
Sent: Friday, April 13, 2012
To: AOC Users-All
Subject: Update from the Interim Administrative Director of the Courts

Colleagues:

I’m writing with an update on the Executive Team discussions taking place on the future organization structure and staffing of the AOC. As you know, I have been meeting on an almost weekly basis with the directors since February to identify and implement a course of action that will allow the agency to continue to meet our statewide responsibilities to the Judicial Council, the courts, and the public in the challenging environment we find ourselves in. This week, we set aside two days to walk through policy and operational issues from an organizational perspective and focus on the specific steps we need to take to reorganize and achieve necessary efficiencies. The materials submitted by each division for our restructuring effort provided the basis for this review. I appreciate the leadership of the directors in this difficult process and the candid, collaborative, and respectful discussions we are having.

Key Areas of Focus

Leading up to and during the two-day meeting, our efforts have focused on four key areas:

  1. Managing major budget reductions of at least $17.1 million for fiscal year 2012-2013 as well as adjustments beyond FY 2012-2013;
  2. Confirming the core activities for the AOC in this environment of reduced resources;
  3. Identifying programs and services that should or could be realigned or eliminated; and
  4. Identifying associated employee positions, regular and temporary, that will need to be realigned within the organization or eliminated through layoffs.

Looking at each of these areas individually and then strategically evaluating where and how they intersect has generated sound business realignment opportunities and facilitated difficult decisions. I know that everyone is anxious to know when changes will be implemented. The budget reduction target for the agency adds a significant pressure point. The Executive Team now has the task of mapping out and coordinating changes in all four areas, and while further discussions are needed, we are moving closer to an implementation time frame.

I want to provide you with as much information as I can on the direction we’re taking.

Organizational Restructuring

The current approach on organizational realignments will be to implement changes in phases, beginning as soon next month and then continuing into the new fiscal year. This will require program and staffing shifts in a number of divisions with the goals of improving how we operate and achieving cost-savings to meet our budget reduction target. Some plans still need to be worked out and those programs and services identified for elimination by the Executive Team will be considered by the Chief Justice and the Judicial Council. We will also seek input from trial and appellate courts leaders where courts will be most directly affected.

Layoffs

Regular Employees: Two cycles of the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP) implemented in this fiscal year are helping to generate savings in 2012-2013. Unfortunately, it will not be enough and layoffs are needed. The final number of positions will depend on several factors, including final VSIP numbers and the timing on implementation of internal reorganizations. Right now, we anticipate phased layoffs, with some happening before the end of June. Layoffs have always been a last resort. Eliminating jobs and losing colleagues is one of the toughest decisions we need to make, but it is now unavoidable. The directors and I are committed to doing everything that we can to provide reasonable notice to affected employees.

Temporary Staff: During the past three years in which we’ve had a hiring freeze on all but critical positions, temporary agency staff have provided much needed assistance to the AOC. However, our regular employees must be our priority, and, therefore, we plan on releasing a significant number of Apple One temp agency staff over the next several weeks. Because of the hiring freeze, a small number of temp staff are filling critical positions. Our need to retain these staff or fill the positions with regular employees will need to be assessed.

California Court Case Management System (CCMS) Staff: With the Judicial Council’s decision last month to stop the deployment of CCMS, by April 30, 2012, 22 contractors and temporary employees will have been released. All work with the CCMS development vendor has been completed, configuration activities are being ramped down, and most contracts associated with V4 will be gone by the end of the month. Efforts to leverage the developed technology and software to benefit ongoing judicial branch technology solutions are being planned and the final impact on temporary and regular staffing resources related to CCMS will be assessed when work plans have been finalized and executed.

Furlough Program

The furlough program is likely to continue, but this decision may be revisited later in the new fiscal year when we know what our final budget is and have time to assess the organizational changes we will have made.

Strategic Evaluation Committee Recommendations

Current information from the Strategic Evaluation Committee indicates that its final report and recommendations on the role and structure of the AOC will be provided to the Chief Justice toward the end of May or early June. The committee’s recommendations will be reviewed by the Chief Justice and the council and will need to be considered in the context of our own internal reorganization efforts.

Balancing our priorities, our positions, and the budget reduction target we need to meet presents unprecedented challenges for our organization. The Chief Justice and the Judicial Council recognize and continue to express appreciation for the integral role and value of the AOC in improving the administration of justice in California. Their support, and the leadership of our Executive Team, will ensure that the change process we’re going through, while difficult on many levels, will put the AOC in the best possible position to contribute to the mission of the judiciary and the judicial branch.

Thank you for your professional commitment and mutual support for one another during this challenging time.

Jody

Jody Patel

Interim Administrative Director of the Courts

Judicial Council of California – Administrative Office of the Courts
455 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, California 94102
916-263-1333, FAX 916-263-1966, jody.patel@jud.ca.gov
www.courts.ca.gov

“Serving the courts for the benefit of all Californians”

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