ab1208 in the news, editorial says CCMS is stuck

Posted on January 14, 2012


January 13, 2011

As you know, AB 1208 must pass out of the Assembly by January 31st. This bill guarantees that money appropriated to the Trial Court Trust Fund goes to the trial courts, without holdbacks for the pet projects of the AOC and Judicial Council. We appreciate the efforts of all of you who have taken the time to contact your local Assembly members. Please redouble your efforts because while you are on the bench doing your job, the AOC is working the Capitol in an attempt to kill this bill that would hold it accountable for its wasteful mismanagement of our precious court dollars.

Here are two articles concerning AB 1208 and an excellent opinion piece regarding the disaster that is CCMS. The articles address a form letter in opposition to AB 1208, which presiding judges were “strongly encouraged” to sign. Many did, though they did not purport to speak for their courts.  The signators number less than 3% of the state’s trial court judges, and even if they spoke for every member of their courts — which they do not — they would not represent half of the state’s judges. We remain convinced that AB 1208 is strongly favored by judges, whether those judges publicly voice their support or not.

We also write to clarify that it is simply not accurate to say that the Chief Justice was blindsided by AB 1208. Several of our directors met with her before she was sworn in, but our proposals for basic reforms were dismissed out of hand. While we are pleased that the Chief Justice has now begun to address some of our concerns, we would have greatly preferred being seen as partners in those reforms, rather than opponents.   Now we move forward with AB 1208, not out of disrespect for  the Chief  Justice, but as a necessary step  to restore balance to the courts.

Thank you for your continued support.

Alliance of California Judges

California Judges Battle Over Bill to Weaken Central Bureaucracy

Courthouse News Service

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Judges from all around California are jumping into an intense lobbying battle over a piece of legislation that would send funds directly to trial courts while taking power away from the central bureaucracy.

Over the course of a few days, one Northern California judge has gathered signatures from 43 head judges who oppose the legislative measure. At the same time, leaders of some of the biggest courts in the state, such as Los Angeles, Orange County and San Francisco, have refused to sign.

The legislative bill, AB 1208, would send 100% of the money allocated by the Legislature for trial court operations to the trial courts, and it would take power over that purse away from the central governing council and the nearly 1,000-strong bureaucracy that sit atop the court system in California.

With a legislative deadline approaching at the end of this month, the rhetoric on both sides is heating up.

“Judges throughout the state are, frankly, fed up with the constant drumbeat of criticism and vituperation,” wrote Judge David Rosenberg of Yolo County who circulated the letter opposing AB 1208.

He added, “When three-quarters of the elected presiding judges of the trial courts oppose it . . . well, what more need be said.”

But along with 15 other courts, Los Angeles, the biggest court in the nation, has not signed the letter. The court’s leadership voted last year to support AB 1208.

“The priority is keeping courts open and able to address disputes that citizens bring to us. That’s the core, number one value,” said L.A. Judge Robert Dukes in an interview. “I’d rather do a trial in a leaky courthouse then not do a trial.”

The presiding judges who signed the letter range from Trinity and Del Norte counties in the far north of California to San Diego and Riverside in the south.

Standing back from the letter are presiding judges in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco and Sacramento.

In terms of population, the judges signing the letter come from counties that have 17 million residents, while those refusing to sign come from counties with roughly 20 million.

“This is not a plebiscite, and presiding judges don’t represent populations,” Rosenberg reacted. “No one has ever suggested that a PJ in a larger populated county should have more voting power than a PJ in a county with a smaller population. We are all equal. That’s part of the democracy of the branch. It’s kind of like the U.S. Senate.”

One of the smaller courts that is not among the signatories is Fresno. Presiding Judge Gary Hoff said he did not sign the letter because some judges in Fresno support the legislation.

The letter itself I don’t think was specific enough in stating these were the views of the presiding judges personally and not necessarily representing their bench,” he said.

“Speaking on a personal level I oppose AB 1208,” Hoff added. “But we have some on our bench that are supportive of AB 1208 so I thought it would be misleading.”

In San Francisco, the court’s judges voted unanimously to stay neutral on the legislation. And in Sacramento, another court that is missing from Rosenberg’s list, Presiding Judge Lauri Earl said she could not comment on her reasons for not signing the letter, because she wanted to first talk it over with the judges in her court.

The divisions over the legislative bill, and the letter opposing it, fall in part along the lines of size. A frequent refrain from judges in smaller courts is that Los Angeles, with its enormous size, would dominate matters if power was apportioned based on size.

In an interview, Rosenberg said his chief objection to the bill is that a 2/3 majority of the courts — with voting power proportionate to size — must give written approval for major technology and administrative projects.

“How is that democratic?” Rosenberg argued. “You’re going to have the tail wagging the dog.”

“The current decentralized judicial system is set up to maximize local control while providing a system of justice to the public,” he added by email. “Ceding control to the courts in 2 or 3 counties with the largest populations is anathema to local control.”

Dukes in Los Angeles answered, “LA, Sacramento, San Francisco or Orange don’t need to apologize for being large courts. The judges of those courts represent the majority of the constituents in the state. The elected judges of this state who represent the majority citizens who are appearing in their courts now will have some say in what’s being done.”

California’s courts have seen big budget cuts two years in a row, totaling nearly a half-billion dollars. The result is expected to be shuttered courtrooms, mass employee layoffs and physical deterioration at courthouses.

At the same time, the central bureaucracy has spent a half-billion dollars over the last 10 years on an IT project, called the Court Case Management System, that is being used in only a few courts.

That computer project is heavily criticized by many trial judges because of the money it has siphoned away from trial court operations. And that use of precious money remains a central theme in both the debate over the legislation and in the debate over how much representation the big courts should have.

“If a court doesn’t have a computer system it can’t operate,” argued Rosenberg. “There are courts that have failing systems. You can’t operate a court without a case management system.” Answered Dukes, “Financial decisions are being made which are impacting the vast majority of litigants. That’s wrong and undemocratic. There’s a feeling among trial court judges now that without this type of legislation, decisions are happening that impact our citizens in a negative way because of goals set by a bureaucracy.”

He argued that the bill has been incorrectly construed as changing the structure of branch governance, when in fact is has to do entirely with how money is spent. AB 1208 has polarized the state’s judges and has drawn fierce opposition from the governing Judicial Council, the big and powerful Administrative Office of the Courts and Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. In an inteview in the L.A. Times published Wednesday, the chief justice described the bill as “a hammer over my head for the last year” that would “take away the authority of the Judicial Council.”

A fundamental reorganization of California’s court system took place 15 years ago under the preceding chief justice, Ronald George, who took control of the purse strings and rule-making authority through the central Judicial Council. Before that time, decisions on how to spend the money allocated by the Legislature were made primarily by the local courts.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye inherited that fundamental change to the system as well as the opposition it generated. “I admire the chief justice and don’t envy the problems she stepped into,” said Dukes in L.A. “They existed long before her, but coincidentally came to a head around the time she was appointed. The California state budget has driven this and courts have complained to her predecessor and to the prior director of the AOC and nothing was done to rectify them. That’s the reason a budget bill like 1208 is necessary.”

Referring to the 15-year-old centralization of the courts, Dukes added, “Since this system has been in existence it has had such a devastating effect on our court that we operate with 1,000 less employees and 40 less courtrooms. Like other courts, we are consistently underfunded. That’s because the money is getting drained off on projects that everybody but the Administrative Office of the Courts agrees are misguided.”

But Rosenberg in Yolo County argued that the bill is too divisive, saying that instead California’s judges should unite in dealing with California’s governor and his budget. “We are a branch of government composed of 1,600 constitutional officers,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to speak with one voice. I think it’s fair game for judges to argue and disagree and debate issues within the branch. But once we have done that we should try our best to come together and speak with a unified voice before the governor.”



Courthouse News Service

This fall’s courtship dance between California’s judicial leaders and a billionaire drug magnate was all about the money, the many millions needed to pay for an IT boondoggle.

The dance failed and, now in winter, the leaders are looking for another way to pay the fees demanded by Deloitte Consulting to work on the system. They certainly won’t find it in the governor’s new budget.

The judiciary budget announced last week by Governor Brown has one and only one item that is not filled in with a dollar number. The box next to the IT project says “TBD,” which stands for “To Be Determined.”

That means that either the leaders are not telling where the money will come from, or they don’t know.

Indeed, it seems more and more obvious that the high-level bureaucrats in the court administrative office have led California’s court system into financial quicksand. They have already spent a half-billion dollars on the IT     system, called the Court Case Management System, that has been rejected by most of California’s trial courts, including the Big Kahuna, L.A. Superior.

“The project seems to be imploding,” says retired L.A. Judge Charles Horan. “Nonetheless, the Chief Justice insists that CCMS is the judiciary’s way out of poverty.”
He was referring to the fact that a couple big California courts — the very ones that have adopted the controversial IT system — have also gone into the publishing business.

They sell records online, delaying press and public access to the records until they can put them up for sale. That fits in with the bureaucrats’ pitch. They attempt to justify the investment in the CCMS system partly by saying it will generate millions from those sales.

But the costs generated by the CCMS system really are extraordinary and cannot be covered by interfering with public access in order to make some online sales. In addition to the half-billion already spent on a clunky system that is now ten years old, the state Auditor says it will take another $1.4 billion to finish it.

But the money has run out.

So where does that leave the four loyalist courts that followed the bureaucrats into the morass. It leaves them in a position of peril.

A judge told me last month that his court had asked for two things before adopting the new IT system: access to the underlying code and the ability to run it on local servers. Those two requests were rejected by the central administrative office.

So the trial court said, no deal.

But that means that any local court that did make that deal, such as Orange County, San Diego, Ventura and Sacramento, is now dependent on the central bureaucrats for maintenance of the software. And the bureaucrats in turn are dependent on the private consultant that has been charging California about a million a week.

And what all that means is that the money will be paid, because the bureaucrats have little choice.  So where will it “be determined” that those millions will come from.

In the past, much of the money for CCMS came from a trust fund set aside for California’s trial courts. That is one big reason so many trial court judges despise the project, because it takes money away from funds intended to run their courts.

Now, in contrast to a series of cuts for next year, the judicial budget does show that the trial court trust fund will get a $50 million bump based on higher filing fees. It also happens that the one simple estimate of CCMS cost, pressed out of an AOC official by L.A. judges, was that California pays Deloitte roughly $1 million a week to work on the system.

So $50 million would just about maintain that level of pay for a year. Maybe the trust fund is not where the money will come from, because the starving trial courts surely need it.

But my bet is that the central bureaucrats will not cut off payments to the private consultant, because they can’t. And the money will come, as it has in the past, from funds intended for the state’s beleaguered local courts.


The Recorder’s Legal Pad blog

January 11, 2012

As AB 1208 Nears Deadline, Cantil-Sakauye and Calderon Trade Swipes

[Cheryl Miller]

California’s recent spate of unseasonably warm weather has done nothing to thaw the icy relationship between Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board published Wednesday, the chief justice accused the Montebello Democrat of using his Trial Court Rights Act as “a hammer over my head for the last year.”

Cantil-Sakauye said Calderon blind-sided her by introducing AB 1208, the Alliance of California Judges-backed bill that would shift funding control from the Judicial Council to the trial courts.

“But I get 47 days into office and all of a sudden, we need to change and turn around on a dime,” Cantil-Sakauye told the ed board. “Any discussion with me? None. Any warning? None. Any ‘Let’s work this out?’ None.”

Calderon, as you might expect, has a different recollection of events. He said he had been approached by the Alliance in 2010 -– before Cantil-Sakauye was chief justice — to carry the Trial Court Rights Act but, not knowing the group’s members, he declined. When the state auditor published her critical review of the Court Case Management System in February 2011, he changed his mind.

The assemblyman said he talked with the chief justice early last year at a meeting arranged by Allan Zaremberg, the president of the California Chamber of Commerce and a colleague of Cantil-Sakauye in the Deukmejian administration.

“I said to her she should make a very public statement and distance herself from the [Administrative Office of the Courts] and the CCMS project and show that she’s in charge,” Calderon said. “I said, ‘I’ll work with you to try to bring the courts back together.’”

But Cantil-Sakauye was only interested in him dropping AB 1208, Calderon said. He declined.

“She’s been in office for a year now and nothing’s changed,” he said.

The pointed comments reflect the tension that’s built as the Jan. 31 deadline to pass AB 1208 off the Assembly floor approaches. Calderon said he’s got the votes.

“There’s heavy labor support for it, and that’s going to make a difference,” he said.

Calderon added that he still plans to launch a subcommittee that will review judicial branch spending, although he declined to discuss its scope or to give a timeline for its first meeting. “Just say it’s alive,” he said.

In the meantime, Yolo County Superior Court Judge David Rosenberg, chair of the Judicial Council’s Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, said in a Wednesday newsletter to fellow jurists that he has obtained the signatures of 43 presiding judges opposed to AB 1208. “As I see it, AB 1208 is a chimera, no more and no less,” Rosenberg wrote.