42 Days – Governance by fear & retribution

Posted on August 5, 2011


Fourteen Fifteen years of governance by fear and retribution continues to have an enduring effect across California’s judicial branch.  Judges and justices, elected officials that sit on the bench fear that they will be denied opportunity to occupy a higher office. They fear petty retaliation by the commission on judicial performance. They fear lost opportunity to influence judicial branch policy.

They fear that if they speak out in unison as a court that San Francisco will punish them via the purse strings. Maybe that perennial underfunding won’t be addressed. Maybe that courthouse won’t be built. Maybe that glaring situation that has existed in their court for so long and has gone uncorrected locally will come under San Francisco’s spotlight. Worse, maybe it will come under Sacramento’s spotlight at the behest of the AOC. Maybe those security needs will go unaddressed. Maybe that problem with their courthouse will go unaddressed. Maybe their operations will be subjected to a critical audit by San Francisco. Maybe that judicial position that has been filled by an assigned judge for the past seventeen years won’t be filled by a new judgeship.

As if the fear exhibited by judges and groups of judges wasn’t enough, rank and file, management and executive employees have even more reason to be concerned. They don’t have the protections of civil service. In the AOC, they don’t legally have an opportunity to organize. They lack all protections afforded civil service employees of executive branch agencies. They fear that speaking out will cost them their jobs. They fear if they don’t engage in that illegality under the instruction of others, it will cost them their jobs. They fear a lack of promotion, bogus performance reviews, layoffs or outright termination.

Above are contained many of the reasons that you don’t see employees and judges working together in large numbers to change this system and it all boils down to governance by fear and retribution. Of all of the posts on this site over the past year or so, far and away the most read, the most socially networked, the most commented upon, the most talked about across the internet,  the most circulated commentary in trial courts, the unions, the legislature and the AOC thus far is Michael Paul’s June 22nd letter to the Judicial Council. It embodies the concerns of all judicial branch employees. It says it like it is. It holds back nothing. It pulls no punches. It is a credible laundry list of serious grievance embodied by most.

We ask ourselves, where are the judges, what are they doing to stop this? Where is the union leadership on these issues? Where is legislative leadership on these issues? Why is it our new chief justice has not embraced or addressed any of these concerns? Where is law enforcement? Where is mainstream media? Where are the newspapers? Where is broadcast news? Where are California’s more than 100,000 attorneys? Why are the messages mixed and the concerns muffled?

Where is the public outrage?

A near universal belief across all of these constituencies is that in order to get along, one most go along.  You must speak with one voice. You must not sacrifice your media access or your sources. You must not rock the boat if you value your pension and your job.  You, dear reader are being manipulated by the fear of loss. A fear that is real. A fear that is all too common.

It is only human nature that we as people will do far more to avoid the pain of our fears than we will ever do to gain the pleasure. We all have a pretty clear idea of what we individually expect of others. We have a pretty clear idea of what judges should be doing. We have a pretty clear idea of what we would like law enforcement to be doing. We have a pretty clear idea of what we expect our chief justice to be doing. We have a pretty clear idea of what we wish the legislature and the governor to be doing. We have a pretty clear idea of what we want those very influential hundred thousand plus attorneys to be doing.

Yet the only way we can ever address the glowing coals of malfeasance at all levels is to take a significant risk. To risk ourselves to the pain of possibilities by embracing or values, our sense of right and wrong, our standards of transparency and accountability at all levels, in all places and at all times. We must embrace our sense of decency and fair play.

We must risk the possibility that we might experience pain to gain pleasure. We must make unjust systems just. We must walk the talk. We must risk that we might be held accountable by being more transparent. We must risk that we might be held accountable for violations of the law. We must risk dissenting opinion, dissenting public comment and dissenting litigation. We must risk embracing our own values, our core beliefs, our standards of ethics and decency, our sense of right and wrong.

We must risk doing the right thing to preserve both justice and democracy here in California. We must be willing to right the wrongs.

It’s difficult to have a justice system when the system itself remains unjust. When it embraces cronyism over core values. When we look the other way at impropriety in our own back yard, yet we embrace the hypocrisy to adjudicate similar impropriety every day in front of the bar and in front of the bench.

Two weeks ago, we witnessed the preservation of the status quo. It has generated uncertainty across the judicial branch. We know the right thing wasn’t accomplished. We know that many of us have not done enough to avoid the pain and as a result will experience more pain. All economic indicators point towards the U.S. entering into the second part of a double dip, global recession. We’re unwilling to consider the redistribution of wealth, even when people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates say tax me more. 

There were quite a few statements made two weeks ago The statements we need to be most concerned about were the statements that were never made. We put more value in a consulting firm with a troubled past and a product whose delivery is five years behind schedule that we put in our fellow workers, our employees, our associates. We put more value on some of the world’s most expensive public projects on a per square foot basis than we do in keeping our court rooms open.

We place more value in the AOC’s two hundred plus mismanagers and eighty plus attorneys that send everything out to private law firms than we do in having enough clerks at the windows to serve the public, enough court reporters to make an accurate record, enough staff to keep a court room open.

We have emphatically stated that the judicial branch has lost its way, that we’ve sacrificed our core values, that we are now a threat to our own democracy and justice itself.

We’re challenged on how this should be addressed. We say in our surveys that we can handle our problems ourselves. Our chief justice says that her priority is in keeping the courts open and accessible. We form committees led by current insiders and cronies to buy time, to lend credibility, to reaffirm that our course is true, to convince others we’re doing the right thing. Yet nothing changes because the judiciary is traditionally the most conservative of institutions, resistant to radical change, resistant to admitting fallibility, resistant to the concept of accountability in favor of preserving broad powers of judicial immunity internally and quasi-judicial immunity externally. We have become the most unjust of institutions in California. We have violated our citizens sense of decency and public service. We subject them to daily incarceration of lines that stretch around the block.We have told them that we’re willing to dismantle and utterly deny their access to justice in favor of the dregs of society that get to step to the front of the line. We have made things so expensive that the common citizen, the middle class, the poor, the under and unemployed are burdened more by us than any other state institution they may have the misfortune of frequenting. We are creating a windfall for the rich, for the corporations, for big business and for insurance companies.

We have truly lost our way.

Judicial Council Watcher has been challenged by what more we can do,  what more we can focus our efforts on, what more we can suggest. Power always is in numbers and not individuals. We’ve tried to inform and educate. We’ve asked the questions no one else was willing to ask. We’ve made the statements that everyone knows are true, yet no one dares utter themselves. We’ve provided resources to allow you to help us educate the public, your coworkers, your legislators and we’ve openly solicited you to produce material for us, for your benefit, not ours. We have nothing to gain in this fight. We seek to preserve access to a just justice system. We seek to encourage other parties to unite any way they can unite and change course because we can all see our ship is headed for the rocks and the lighthouse’s light is burned out.

Power is in numbers. So how do we produce those numbers to regain our collective power? We’ve brainstormed this for months. We toss ideas out. We implement tools. We put others on public notice. We thank others for being brave, for taking a stand, for doing the right thing.

We’re not done yet. We always have another idea. You supply us with other ideas, other suggestions and other material. The question remains, how do you unite others without compromising the individual?

Our latest brainstorm? Back to our petitions: A precious brave few have signed the petitions. There is tremendous fear in coming out and endorsing any of those positions publicly as an individual. Yet there exists groups of employees in unions, groups of employees in individual courts, groups of employees inside the AOC. Our latest brainstorm is to sign those petitions as a group.

A few examples of signing as a group might be “all 57 court clerks of x county court” “350 of all 400 members of the Alliance of California Judges” “250 of 310 members of x court reporters association” “the entire x thousand members of AFSCME” “all 57 judges of x superior court” Power is in numbers and we need some method of producing those numbers, attracting media attention and attracting the attention of the other two branches of government.

Consider signing the petitions as a group by clicking here.


Courthouse News –  The Power of Print – An editorial about why Bill Girdner shares some of our concerns as to why the outcome of this struggle is so important.

San Diego North County Times – That which was never stated was that Mr. Roddy endorsed his own budget cut.