Letters to the Chief – Enact responsible fiscal policy

Posted on February 3, 2011

17


I read this letter with some interest and was thinking about the ways that the AOC can realistically enact some of these savings. An issue that is not apparent is the justification for the current personnel. All of the AOC’s construction and software programs serve as the justification for over 500 personnel and temps/consultants. The AOC is management heavy, having added layers of management in the past years in anticipation of future growth. Highly paid managers, most of whom were in essence, promoted by the voters and a second layer below them represent a majority of the bureaucratic inefficiencies and bloat. Senior Managers, Managers and supervisors, assistant directors and directors represent a little less than a third of the AOC’s work force. These are not the people who do the actual work. These are the people who get in the way of work being done efficiently and affordably because no matter how small the project, it has all of these layers of management above it.

__________________________________________________________________

January 13, 2011

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye

Supreme Court of California

350 McAllister Street

San Francisco, CA 94102-4797

Dear Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye:

The release Monday of Governor Brown’s budget reveals with unmistakable clarity the nature of California’s dire financial situation. Late last year former Chief Justice Ron George asserted, Without doubt, California’s court system now is in a far stronger position to weather the challenges ahead than it was when I became Chief Justice 14 years ago.” It is now unambiguously apparent this proclamation was inaccurate. The just announced non-negotiable $200 million in unallocated cuts to the judiciary will lead to lay-offs, court closures, and reduced public access to the judiciary if fiscal responsibility is not restored swiftly and responsibly. There can be no legitimate dispute that access to the courts has to be the primary goal in sensibly evaluating the judicial budget, since without access there can be no justice.

Your quote from Tuesday’s Daily Journal article by Emily Green, “It’s deep, it’s grave, and it’s alarming to us,” supports a re-evaluation of previous financial decisions in light of this new fiscal reality.

The Alliance of California Judges (ACJ) urges you to review two areas in particular that would likely prevent the public from suffering limited access to our third branch of government. First, we ask you to review and advocate reconsideration of the December 14, 2010 decision of the Judicial Council to divert $143.409 million for technology projects, and technology infrastructure maintenance, and operations rather than having those funds available to ensure the courts remain open.

This money was taken from the Modernization Fund ($28.283 million), the Improvement Fund ($27.079 million), and the Trial Court Trust Fund (TCTF) ($88.047 million) and allocated in significant part to the highly controversial and woefully over budget ($250 million initial cost estimates to $1.3 billion in the latest revision) California Case Management System (CCMS). Restoring the unencumbered portion to trial court operations would help avoid closures, save jobs, and ward off furloughs of necessary courtroom staff.

Second, the ACJ also requests you to take measures to reduce the budget of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) by at least 25% to match the figure Governor Brown promised to reduce annual spending in his own office. California Lawyer magazine reported in its most recent edition, “In 1998 the AOC’s budget was about $77 million; last year it was $138.9 million—or if you include the court facilities budget, $320 million. The AOC’s staffing has increased from 268 full-time employees in 1998 to 878 as of last March, and about a quarter of those workers are paid $100,000 a year or more.”

The continued growth of the AOC in the past two years, together with “merit salary adjustments” (more commonly known as pay raises) awarded late last year to approximately 80% of the employees of that administrative body, retroactive to July 1, 2010, exemplifies the type of growth that the ACJ and the public views as unwarranted and irresponsible. Responsible fiscal policy requires the entire AOC to be critically evaluated and reduced to “necessary staff” in order to ensure elimination of waste and to direct funds to the trial courts to keep the doors to justice open to our citizens.

We trust the ACJ’s priority of ensuring court access to the general public is shared not only by you, but also by the Judicial Council, which has the obligation and ability to take swift corrective action.

Very Truly,

Judge Charles E. Horan, on behalf of The Directors of the Alliance of California Judges