ACJ: Puzzling….

Posted on July 1, 2012

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Chief Justice : But Life’s Been Good To Me So Far………

July 1, 2012

Dear Members and Others:

There have been a number of additional news articles regarding the fundamental reform of trial court funding enacted by the Legislature last week. We enclose two. We find it puzzling that anyone would ignore that fundamental reform has taken place, or that the diversion of the Trial Court Trust Fund for statewide projects is just a “rumor.” Of course, the AOC’s own documents reveal these expenditures, as reflected in the the Judicial Council’s report to the Legislature in February 2012 entitled “Status of the California Court Case Management System and the Phoenix Program 2011.” That report details that $521 million had been spent through 2011. Of that amount, $174 million was taken from the Trial Court Trust Fund, $197 million was taken from the Trial Court Improvement Fund, $71 million from the Modernization Fund and $70.5 million of unallocated trial court funds. This is an extraordinary expenditure of public funds on a discredited and failed project.

All judges must acknowledge that the past failed structure of the Judicial Council and AOC can no longer be tolerated. The Legislature understands and has acted. The Strategic Evaluation Committee appointed by the Chief Justice understood and has acted. The implementation of the SEC recommendations must begin immediately. The AOC must be reduced to its core statutory functions of ensuring uniform accounting and reporting of trial court funding and expenditures and administrative support of the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council must recognize that it is not a governing body, and must commit itself to strict oversight of the AOC to ensure that the AOC does not stray beyond its limited mandate. The Judicial Council must limit itself to performing its sole constitutional duty of “surveying judicial business, making recommendations, adopting uniform rules of court not inconsistent with statute” (Article VI, Section 6d), and to performing its statutory budget duties which have now been appropriately and strictly limited by the Legislature.

Judges are not policymakers. As judges we must return to our core ethic — to keep the courts open and accessible, and to decide the cases and controversies before us according to law.

Thank you.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

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CANTIL-SAKAUYE: THESE HANDCUFFS ARE GREAT!

JUNE 29, 2012 from The Recorder’s LegalPad Blog

[Cheryl Miller]
The Legislature and governor may have just slapped harsh spending restrictions on her judicial branch, but Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye insists that she’s “pleased” with new policies contained in the state budget enacted this week.

That’s what she told reporters on a Friday conference call. Along with $544 million in cuts to the courts, the budget bars the Judicial Council from spending trial court money on statewide programs without the Legislature’s consent. Since late 2009, branch leaders have tapped roughly $200 million from the Trial Court Trust Fund to pay for technology maintenance and projects, according to council meeting records. The shifts steamed council critics who wanted the money to go directly to courts.

The council will keep control of a much smaller pot of money created by merging two other funds.

Cantil-Sakauye said the spending restrictions won’t affect the Administrative Office of the Courts at all.

“The cuts we obviously opposed, but in terms of the concepts that are contained within the [budget] bill? No, no opposition to that,” she said. “We approved that concept for clarity.”

That’s not what those in the Capitol say they were hearing from Judicial Council lobbyists. Those familiar with the budget trailer bill’s drafting say council representatives fought restrictions on branch spending.

And the chief justice’s tone has turned much more conciliatory since she took aim at Assembly Bill 1208 earlier this year. The bill would have blocked the Judicial Council from spending any trial court money on programs unless two-thirds of local courts OK’d the transfer. In January, Cantil-Sakauye called the Assembly’s passage of AB 1208 “no victory for Californians, for our state courts or for equal access to justice.” The bill later died in the Senate.

On Friday, the chief justice said she saw no similarities between the budget language and AB 1208.

“Have you read 1208?” she asked reporters. “That’s not how I see it. In terms of the language [restricting] the Trial Court Trust Fund, I’m happy for the clarity. I appreciate that. Judicial Council appreciates that clarity.”

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June 29, 2012 Courthouse News Service
Judicial Council Lobbyists Fought Spending Limits Up to Final Vote

By MARIA DINZEO

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in a teleconference Friday that she welcomes recently passed legislation sharply restricting the Judicial Council’s ability to spend money on statewide projects such as a failed, half-billion-dollar IT project. However, lobbyists for the council were vigorously fighting against that very provision, according to legislative sources, right up until the final vote.

The chief justice said she endorsed legislation that requires legislative approval before the Judicial Council can spend money from the trial court trust fund on big projects such as the failed IT system. She also said those restrictions will not in any way affect the AOC’s budget and operations.

“In terms of the language on the trial court trust fund, I’m happy for that clarity,” she said. “The judicial council appreciates that clarity. We’re pleased with this language” she said, adding that the new law “dispels rumors” that trust fund money had been used for statewide initiatives.

However, it appears that lobbyists for the governing council of the courts headed by the chief justice did not welcome the language at all, and in fact fought hard against it.

A highly-placed legislative staff member said lobbyists for the Administrative Office of the Courts, the staff arm of the Judicial Council, strongly opposed language included in a budget trailer bill, that changed the government code to restrict its spending power, right up until the Senate floor vote on Tuesday. The lobbyists for the judiciary leaders asked the Department of Finance to remove that language, according to the legislative staff member.

The trailer bill, which is now part of the budget act signed by Governor Jerry Brown, amends the government code to read, “Nothing in this section or any other provision of law shall be construed to authorize the Judicial Council to redirect funds from the Trial Court Trust Fund for any purpose other than for allocation to trial courts or as otherwise specifically appropriated by statute.”

“They didn’t like the portion that restricted their ability to redirect funds from the Trial Court Trust Fund,” said the staff member who asked to speak without attribution. “They wanted that gone and then they wanted that delayed. We ended up delaying that enactment for six months.”

The staffer added that the lobbyists also fought against language prohibiting any further spending from any source on the IT project, called the Court Case Management System, without legislative approval. “They didn’t want CCMS funding to end, they asked that that language be removed. They did not want that language restricting it,” the staff member said.

The enacted budget language has been lauded as a victory for judicial reformers, who have been trying through legislative action to ensure full funding for the trial courts, while limiting the amount of funds that can been siphoned from the courts for projects like CCMS. Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon (D-Industry) said Tuesday that reforms contained in AB 1208, which was staunchly opposed by the chief justice and Judicial Council, were largely enacted through the budget trailer bill’s language.

Michelle Castro, chief lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union, said the new legislation actually goes further than AB 1208 in a number of areas.
“The changes enacted in the trailer bill were more significant than even some of the provisions of 1208,” said Castro. “They went a little further by having legislative counsel search all of the government codes to make sure they weren’t going to leave anything out. It was an incredible effort.”

During Friday’s teleconference with reporters, Cantil-Sakauye said she did not find similarities between AB 1208 and the new law. “I would disagree with the premise that it contains similarity,” she said.

What she deeply opposed, said Cantil-Sakauye, were the big funding cuts imposed on the judiciary by the current budget. The cumulative effect of the cuts has been enormous, amounting over the last three budgets to $650 million taken out of a roughly $4 billion budget.

The cuts have led to layoffs, actual or scheduled, of hundreds of court workers in trial courts up and down California. At the same time, court operations have been curtailed and some courtrooms are being closed.

In that context, the IT project, that wound up costing some $500 million, is a particularly sore point among trial court judges.
Nevertheless, in the chaotic horse trading that accompanies passage of a massive budget such as California’s, the lobbyists for the Judicial Council continued to seek millions of dollars to spend on the now-terminated project.

“There was actually a request to spend $5.1 million additional money for CCMS,” said the highly placed legislative staffer. “My understanding is for CCMS staff they used to have 51 employees.

They’d laid off 48 of them and have three employees left. Those three employees are trying to do a report for the chief justice and probably the Judicial Council, to say we stopped CCMS, here are some ways you can use it. During the budget negotiations, their cost for this salvage effort was $5 million. The Legislature said why would we spend $5 million on figuring out what to do.”

The staffer commended interim AOC Director Jody Patel for later calling to say the AOC could probably retain the employees for one month for $30,000 to finish the report. “Part of the stress between the Legislature and the judicial branch has been these half-truths,” said the staffer. “The devil is in the details. She’s trying to change that culture.”

While no funding has yet been approved, the chief justice said Friday, “We are still trying to figure out how we can go forward with winding it down and parting it out. The budget does say no further funding can be spent on CCMS. We would of course abide by that. We do want to see if we can use limited funds to wind down and use parts of a $550 million system that actually worked. We’d love to see what we can give the courts from a $550 million system.”

She added, “It’s not phoenix rising, it’s trying to use its parts. We’ll be very transparent and open about it as we’ve always tried to be.” (The laughter should only last a minute or so)