Tuesday afternoon – ACJ message to members : SEC report urges total overhaul of the AOC

Posted on May 29, 2012

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May 28, 2012

Dear Members and Others:

In a rather obvious attempt to minimize the impact of negative press coverage, the AOC released the long-awaited report of the Strategic Evaluation Committee (SEC) this past Friday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m., on the eve of a three-day weekend.  The report can be found on the Judicial Council website at 

http://www.courts.ca.gov/16794.htm or can be downloaded instantly at http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/SEC_Report_May_2012.pdf

The nearly 300-page report is an A to Z indictment of an out of control organization. It is an absolute “must read” for everyone concerned about the functionality and credibility of our judicial branch.   In summary, the report validates positions taken by the Alliance of California Judges and others who for years have warned that the AOC is broken at its very core and has been allowed to run itself, without meaningful Judicial Council oversight, for well over a decade.

Further, the report confirms the truth of statements made by the Alliance, members of the legislature and courageous reporters — which were repeatedly denied by the AOC and by many members of the Judicial Council in public statements and misleading “fact sheets” — that the AOC employed over 1100 people and repeatedly and intentionally misrepresented that number, actively seeking to mislead the public about the AOC and its expenditures.

In the days and weeks to come we will have much to say, in a variety of forums, about the report’s findings — and some areas the report did not reach — but for now we briefly touch upon some of the committee’s findings and observations:

  • The Council has failed in its duty to oversee and manage the AOC since the Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act became law over a decade ago.
  • While the Council and AOC have limited statutory and constitutional duties, they have inappropriately and without authority taken upon themselves the “mantle of control and authority” of the local courts, contrary to the decentralization intended in Lockyer-Isenberg.
  • The AOC is top heavy and overstaffed with  managers and supervisors paid over $100,000.00 per year.
  • The AOC has engaged in fiscal mismanagement and makes it “difficult to obtain clear, comprehensible budget information” (page 14).  The budget process lacks transparency and the same number is never reported twice.  (We note here that the State Auditor made the same observations in her review of the failed CCMS project.)
  • The AOC regional offices throughout the state should be eliminated.
  • The AOC should be relocated to Sacramento.  (The Alliance has long advocated for this.)
  • AOC staff must be downsized.  (Here, we believe the report does not go near far enough — likely because of inaccurate and incomplete information provided by the AOC — calling for a reduction of some 200 positions.  We believe the agency should be cut by up to 75%.)
  • The AOC engaged in an illusory “hiring freeze” and was actively misleading in describing its furlough program that actually resulted in paid vacation days.
  • CCMS was completely mismanaged.  (The AOC and Council are apparently the only entities in the state who have yet to come to this obvious conclusion.)
  • The AOC provided incomplete and largely non-responsive information to the SEC committee.
  • The AOC has strayed from its charter as a service organization and now evidences a “culture of control.”  It has embarked upon large scale programs without input from the state’s judges and without oversight.
  • The AOC has ignored its own internal policies, allowing lawyers to “telecommute” from foreign countries.
  • The expensive “Judge in Residence” and “Scholar in Residence” programs should be eliminated.  (The “Scholar in residence earns over $6000 per month for working part time, and resides in Virginia.  Notwithstanding this meager output, he is given “paid time off” each month.)
  • The AOC’s internal management processes are deficient and the agency is top-heavy and unwieldy.
  • The agency lacks credibility and its representations regarding financial matters are no longer trusted.

We wish the report had addressed another point — the AOC’s yearly contract with the National Center for State Courts.  When the SEC committee was formed the Alliance objected to the inclusion among its members of the Director of the National Center.  Our objections were ignored, but that member publicly stated that she would not take part in discussions relating to the National Center. Unless we have missed it, the SEC report failed to note that the AOC pays close to $1 million per year to that organization, an expense that we believe cannot be justified.

Like the report of the State Auditor, the SEC report does not purport to be an analysis of our governance structure or a review of the actions and internal policies of the Judicial Council.  Given the scathing findings of both reports, the obvious question is:  What is it about the Judicial Council, its members, and its operating policies that have allowed the AOC to operate in the fashion outlined in those reports, year after year, while fiercely denying that there were any problems at all?   Why has the Council ignored criticisms of the agency, preferring to deride critics for pointing out many of the things that the Chief Justice’s own committee has now conclusively demonstrated to be fact?

We believe that one obvious answer is that the Council must be rebuilt from the ground up, based upon a realization and understanding that its primary duty vis a vis the AOC is to give orders, not receive them, and that its duty vis a vis judges is primarily advisory.    We further believe that the Council must be democratically elected.

We hope you will all read the report in full.   Further, we hope you will redouble your efforts to see to it that AB 1208 receives support in the Senate.  The SEC report’s recommendations are a step in the right direction, but they are just that — recommendations.  AB 1208 is a necessary next step in the process of reform.

Thank you for your continued support.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

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A more representative video of the news of the SEC report might sound something like this:
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