37 Days – AOC Governance issues – Directors vs. Division Managers

Posted on August 10, 2011


We’ve always been bothered by the title of “Director” over at the administrative office of the courts when these directors are acting in the capacity of division managers. They are nothing more than highly compensated AOC employees.

Let’s review the typical responsibilities of a director and see if these responsibilities match up with the responsibilities of other people that carry the title of director.

What a typical director does:

Typical duties of boards of directors include:

  • governing the organization by establishing broad policies and objectives;
  • selecting, appointing, supporting and reviewing the performance of the chief executive officer
  • ensuring the availability of adequate financial resources;
  • approving annual budgets;
  • accounting to the stakeholders for the organization’s performance.
  • setting their own salaries and compensation
Breaking them down one by one, lets see what roles AOC directors carry in comparison to other directors.
Do AOC directors govern the AOC (and/or the judicial branch) and establish broad policies and objectives? In essence, there are two boards that serve this purpose. There is the Judicial Council that is supposed to do these things on behalf of their administrative offices over at the AOC and there is in reality AOC directors that spoon feed their desires to the Judicial Council with the tail wagging the dog. Since AOC leadership consists of at-will employees, they are going to suggest anything their boss tells them to suggest and spoon feed this to the Judicial Council.  Our answer here is that is too convoluted and too much tail wagging the dog to establish effective policies and objectives. The answer is no.
Is the AOC board of directors or the judicial council acting as a judicial branch board of directors responsible for selecting, appointing supporting and reviewing the performance of the chief executive officer? If legislators have to call for his resignation because no one else is willing to, if the executive director serves at the pleasure of the chief justice, then neither board carries this responsibility. Even if they did, the structure of both boards is an at-will situation so you go along with what the boss tells you. The answer is no.
Does the AOC board of directors or the Judicial Council ensure the availability of adequate financial resources?  Clearly, the answer is no.
Does either the AOC board of directors or the judicial council acting as a board of directors for the branch approve annual budgets? Again, a convoluted tail wagging the dog where you listen to your boss who has you employed at-will. The judicial council rubber stamps most AOC recommendations. The answer is a resounding no.
Does the AOC board of directors or the judicial council accept their role as being accountable to the stakeholders for the organizations’ performance? A resounding no. No one is accountable except the messengers who air the dirty laundry. In ancient Greece and the AOC, they always kill the messenger of bad news and grant some new award to cover for gross incompetence.
Do AOC directors set their own salaries and compensation? A resounding and thankful no, though they are engaged in unprecedented self-dealing that is rubber stamped by the chief justice.
What’s obvious is that AOC directors don’t have is any of the independence as at-will employees to engage in any of the responsibilities directors are typically responsible for. They are puppet directors, much like judicial council members are puppet directors. One goes along to get along. This is the primary reason that directors should be eliminated in favor of division managers as it highlights their at-will nature. 
Note: We’re supportive of having an AOC board of directors in the form of a democratically elected judicial council with far more frequent meetings.  With that being said, the convoluted governance of the tail wagging the dog of two at-will boards when everyone is appointed by the chief justice must end sooner rather than later.
SFGATE – Matier & Ross comment on this years’ judicial college. Before it was taken over by the AOC, CJER (a creation of CJA) was an independent body with a very small staff and modest quarters in Emeryville.  It held judicial orientations in places like the Hotel Shattuck in Berkeley and the Judicial College at UC’s Boalt Hall. Now it is an expensive state run juggernaut that is staffed by a large number of people. Most have little to do with education.