22 days – Evaluating the Strategic Evaluation Committee

Posted on August 25, 2011


When Chief Justice Mini-Mimi announced the formation of the Strategic Evaluation Committee we were nonplussed. It only took a basic glance at most of the committee members to realize that the committee membership consists of seasoned Judicial Council insiders, cheerleaders and quite a few conflicted members who are expecting things from the AOC, like new courthouses.  These people represented quite a few more than the simple majority required to push recommendations out of the committee on a simple majority vote. Then again, Bill Vickrey knew this when he appointed them. It was all just part of the plan.

Chief Justice Mini-Mimi is sitting on a plethora of survey responses taken by the California Judges Association with pertinent commentary that would be an ample guide for any true leader to mandate and manage change. She’s ignoring it all or making slight adjustments to the window dressing, like expanding public comment, yet not repealing the rules on prior restraint of speech by having to submit comments in advance for approval. Additionally, Chief Justice Mini-Mimi is sitting on survey results she directly commissioned from the trial courts that would also serve as an ample guide for any true leader. Since those comments weren’t getting any better and were headed in a downhill direction from the California Judges Associations survey results, appointing a committee to present a more positive interpreted response of thousands of other survey responses was essential.  The larger the cross-section of survey respondents, the less intimidating the gantt charts look.

The surveys themselves were based on a few push questions. For the most part, these push questions assumed that the AOC must continue to exist in its current form, identify what valuable services were provided and what services the AOC could improve upon. To understand how these survey results are to be assessed is that a statistical analysis will be made of the survey respondents. In many cases, survey respondents may not answer a question due to any myriad of reasons and those views can’t be accurately reflected in any report.

Now about the electronic survey: The electronic survey system was a service provided by the National Center for State Courts. Survey systems such as this have rather sophisticated dashboards that collects enough information about the survey respondent by tying the email name together with an encoded ID in the URL that no claim of anonymity of the survey itself we would consider credible without viewing the survey software dashboard settings. These survey systems can produce raw reports of survey responses for import into a spreadsheet, including or excluding various information the system itself collects. There are savvy people out there that could have easily picked up on this aspect of the survey, would have passed the word around and lots of people wouldn’t have completed the survey as a result. I don’t believe that anyone believes that the AOC hands the National Center for State Courts around or more than a million dollars a year and expects impartial results. In fact, in various press stories where NCSC was describing what ails California’s courts, it is legislative budget cuts which is carrying the ball as the paid mouthpiece line of the AOC.

We also heard through the grapevine that this committee is about as far from transparent as we can expect because they are all sworn to secrecy by non-disclosure agreements.

These results will be analyzed over the course of the next year?

In a recent meeting, Justice Scotland opined that his Strategic Evaluation Committees work would conclude about a year from now. The survey results were instantaneous. Reports can be run on those survey results and they can be analyzed for recommendations as to how to adjust the AOC to better serve the trial courts, yet in this broad survey, for the most part the answers to push questions will serve to justify the existing organization as it exists over the course of the next 12 months at minimum.

Mark our words: The AOC will exist nearly intact in its current form with only a small dip in employment levels caused by terminations and retirements as of September 1st of next year. As of September 1st of next year, we’re estimating that the trial courts will have shed some 1200-1400 jobs statewide, closing courtrooms and shutting down access to the justice system in favor of building new courthouses. Courthouses that will serve most Judicial Council Members and Strategic Evaluation Committee members because the majorities are all conflicted. 

Once a report is created, which may or may not include a copy of the raw survey results, this report will be handed to Justice Richard “Darth Vader” Huffman’s Accountability & Efficiency Committee for a bit more scrutiny over the results and recommendations to be presented to the executive & planning committee. Once at E&P, it will get a bit more scrutiny from E&P before being forwarded to the Judicial Council to accept the report in January or February of 2013.

This entire process is being undertaken to carry us past the next election season without any substantial change in the Judicial Council or the AOC. It is all an effort to buy time with the rest of the judicial branch and the legislature during this and the next legislative session. Maybe you will have forgotten everything that has happened thus far, given another 18 months or so while there remains no substantive change in governance or direction. This is Chief Justice Mini-Mimi’s and Justice Richard “Darth Vader” Huffman’s and Bill “Hi-ho Silver” Vickrey’s grand plan to ensure that no punitive legislative actions are forthcoming because the Judicial Council is addressing the concerns as only an independent branch of government ought to. After all, some 80+% of CJA survey respondents did indicate that the judicial branch should solve their own problems, even when they are made unsolvable by the small insular handful of judicial branch insiders that have run the Judicial Council for the last 15 or so years……

The other part of the plan is to buy enough time for the trial attorneys to convince the legislature that the courts should indeed be run from the top down with the Judicial Council and the AOC running the whole show.  The Judicial Council and AOC’s hands will be sanitized by thousands of attorneys advocating on their behalf in an effort to get greater judicial branch funding, regardless of other circumstances.



From Cal Bar Journal: Budget Cuts hit home


From the New York Times:

As Budgets Continue to Shrink, the Lines Will Grow in California Civil Courts