The Rosenberg rebuttal – By Judge Robert Dukes

Posted on January 9, 2012

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Judicial Friends,

Our court has previously endorsed AB1208.  It is being reintroduced in the Assembly this week, I believe.

The ACJ sent to its members the e-mail copied below regarding actions by  Yolo County judge Rosenberg, chair of the Judicial Council’s Presiding Judges Advisory Committee.  In it Judge Rosenberg asks that all PJs in the state sign a form letter to be sent to the Assembly opposing AB 1208.  In turn, the ACJ asks that individual judges who support AB 1208 contact their own Assembly members to indicate support.  I am not a director of the ACJ, but as a member and public supporter of AB 1208 I concur in their efforts and their suggestion.

Further, Judge Rosenberg gives his personal concerns about the proposed legislation.  Below, I give my personal views about those concerns.

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(Response to judge Rosenberg’s concerns in italics. )

From Judge Rosenberg:  “AB 1208. This bill makes significant changes in the governance of the Judicial Branch. ”

No it does not.  It leaves the Judicial Council with all the authority it is granted under the Constitution, Art. VI, sec. 6. The governance of the branch through the adoption of statewide rules and the setting of priorities remains.  The role of the Council to advise and report to the legislature remains.  The mandate that the Judicial Council (and its committees) survey and make recommendations to the trial courts remains.The ability of a Chief Justice to unilaterally appoint most members of the Council, without regard to representation of any court, remains.  What it does do is give to the local courts the ability to work cooperatively with the Judicial Council in making fiscal decisions which continue what our core value should be — the preserving of trial courts.  It gives the local trial courts a meaningful say in the hard financial decisions of the branch which directly affect them.  It gives the trial courts a seat at the budget decision table.  It caries out the intent of the legislature which passed the state court funding legislation when they acknowledged the need for strong and independent local court financial management.

From Judge Rosenberg:  “Wow! As you can see, a small number of the largest courts (even as few as 2 or 3) could have a veto power over these expenditures, simply by not giving “written approval”. And the passage raises a myriad number of questions. For example, who provides the written approval of the trial court – is it the PJ, the Executive Committee, a vote of all the Judges, or what?”

Wow!  Finally a majority of judges in courts representing a majority of the public in the state and a majority of the cases pending in the trial courts will have veto power over the historically misguided expenditure decisions of the heretofore non-responsive bureaucracy known as the AOC which are detrimentally affecting all the public and users of the courts.  No longer will the majority of elected judges in this state with direct responsibility to their local constituents be forced into fiscally inappropriate goals by unelected staff and a governance body which is unresponsive to their local needs.  We may be able to give our local public access to justice and may not need to lay off employees and close courtrooms because others choose to pursue a misguided computer system or build when it is time to save. The original intent of the legislature which passed state trial court funding will finally be achieved — preserve a “strong and independent local court financial management.”  (By the way, it is approval of the court, not the judges.  The PJ speaks for the court.  The judges elect the PJ.  The Executive Committee — elected by the judges of the court — sets policy for the PJ.  This is democracy — something alien to the Judicial Council).

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From Judge Rosenberg:  “For me, personally, however, the biggest single problem with AB 1208 is the timing. We have a new Chief Justice, in office only one year, who is beginning the process of actively addressing Judicial Branch issues of concern to all of us (even in these difficult financial times). And, as a result, changes in the governance of this Branch are being made. I strongly believe we need to give our new CJ a fair opportunity to address these issues within the Branch. I have grave concerns about the Legislature intervening in Judicial Branch governance.”

This is nothing personal about our Chief Justice.  The economy and the budget proposals from the Governor dictate we cannot wait further.  The governor is not restoring the majority of the cuts from last year.  The Governor proposes trigger cuts which will cause massive closures (equal to 6 weeks a year according to the Governor) if his tax initiatives are not passed.  Since the inception of this funding system over a decade ago, our court now 1000 less employees dictated by the budget recommendations of the AOC.  We struggle with 40 less courtrooms than we had in 2002!  We are again facing massive layoffs and courtroom closures, while the Judicial Council and the AOC have continued with courthouse construction and almost the same employees as a year ago. 

They continue to pursue spending on a computer system discredited by most IT persons outside of their own contractors and staff and excoriated by the independent state auditor. This is money which the legislature said could be diverted to our trial courts last year, but the AOC and the Judicial Council chose to spend the majority of it on the AOC’s construction and computer projects.  

Because of the budget decisions made during the past decade, the AOC has grown by almost the same number of employees we have lost.  Importantly, a year ago, at the invitation of the new Chief, Judges across this state overwhelmingly stated their concerns about the broken governance system which fails to oversee the AOC management’s voracious spending appetite and its refusal to help the local trial courts in any meaningful manner. 

A year is more than enough time to make meaningful change.  None of the so called change thus far has in any way been addresses these budget concerns.  There is no indication that any change is imminent.  Underfunded courts are still underfunded by the AOC.  PJs are made to beg and grovel for what should be their own court’s operations money before members of the Council, the very people who put them in their predicament.  Rather than divert funds to the trial courts last year, they chose to continue with the same misguided spending priorities and decisions.  The bleeding of the trial courts around the state must stop.  The trial courts need to be given the ability to have meaningful input to these spending decisions.  After a decade of failure, the elected trial court judges of this state deserve the ability to make these fiscal decisions for their court now.  AB1208 will give the local courts that ability.  Our branches core value should be the operation of our trial courts, not the preserving of the AOC’s projects.  AB1208 will allow this value to have meaning.

 

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