Editorial: Sacramento Bee urges Chief Justice to end rift with legislators

Posted on February 15, 2012

31


February 15, 2012
Dear Members:

The Sacramento Bee ran an editorial today entitled “Lawmakers and Courts Need to End Their Rift.”  We attach that editorial for your information. (JCW: Due to copyright restrictions, please follow the above link)

The Alliance of California Judges agrees that intemperate remarks made against legislators “diminishes the dignity” of the office of the Chief Justice.  We also agree that it is not a prudent strategy to “pick a fight with the body that controls” our budget.

Please know that before AB 1208 was introduced, the Alliance met with the incoming Chief Justice to discuss in part the need for statutory reform to give the trial courts a role in setting priorities and controls for spending.  While we were disappointed in the outcome of that meeting, we continued to hold out hope that a mutually agreeable solution to these growing problems would be addressed.  Sadly, those hopes were dashed by continued spending and public defense of CCMS, bungled construction and maintenance projects, and the continued growth of the AOC.  It is clear to all, including the Legislature and the media, that the spending priorities of our branch remain unchanged.

That is why the Alliance is committed to meeting in good faith with legislators, Judicial Council members and all those who have a stake in the administration of justice.  We understand the disappointment expressed by Judicial Council members over the passage of AB 1208 by the State Assembly, but we hope that in time cooler heads will prevail and a common sense solution will be arrived at that ensures that trial courts will remain open and accessible to the public.  That has been the singular priority of the Alliance and will continue to be the issue that guides us forward.

Finally, we attach a portion of an earlier member email that exposes the misconceptions concerning AB 1208.  Any fair reading of the bill should put to rest the notion that uniform rules of practice and procedure will be affected by AB 1208.  This patently false claim was manufactured to divert attention away from the text of the bill and its modest reforms. Article VI of the California Constitution, Section 6(d) provides as follows:

…(d)  To improve the administration of justice the (judicial) council may survey judicial business and make recommendations to the courts, make recommendations annually to the Governor and Legislature, adopt rules for court administration, practice, and procedure, and perform other functions prescribed by statute.  The rules adopted shall not be inconsistent with statute.

Obviously, the Council’s rule-making authority is constitutionally based. AB 1208 in no way purports to limit this constitutional power, nor indeed could it.  Any arguments to the contrary simply cannot be made in good faith.

It is time to focus on the merits of the bill.  We must devote all of our efforts to reaching a consensus for the good of the citizens we serve.  The Alliance of California Judges remains committed to that goal.

Sincerely,

Directors,
Alliance of California Judges

___________________________________________________

Misconception: AB 1208 invades separation of powers.

.

Actuality: AB 1208 has nothing to do with the separation of powers.  The statutes AB 1208 seeks to amend were, of course, themselves enacted by the legislature.   AB 1208 does not diminish judges– it empowers judges.  The Legislature already calls out the operating funds for the trial courts every year within the Judiciary budget. The Legislature already intends that this money is set aside for trial court operations. AB 1208 ensures that this money is fully delivered to the trial courts. It prevents the Judicial Council from taking trial court operating money, and using it for other purposes.

.
Misconception: AB 1208 will hurt access, because it will allow courts to divert money from programs such as Self Help Centers, or interpreters.

.

Actuality: AB 1208 does not affect any programs that are specifically and separately appropriated in the annual budget.Self Help Centers are separately appropriated by grant funds, and programs such as interpreters are separately appropriated.  This misconception also presumes that trial judges will ignore their constitutional duty to provide access.

.

Misconception:  AB 1208 will take away the Judicial Council’s ability to “run the branch.” 

.

Actuality: The Judicial Council is not a governing body.  AB 1208 does not take away the Judicial Council’s ability to supervise and manage the nearly $1.0 billion appropriated every year in the Judicial budget for the Judicial Council, the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, Court Construction, Court Maintenance, Judicial Compensation, Assigned Judges, Court interpreters, Habeas Corpus, or Grants. AB 1208 does not change the Judicial Council’s authority to supervise budgeting, establish uniform accounting practices, and pursue audits.

.

Misconception: AB 1208 will prevent important statewide initiatives like CCMS.

.

Actuality: AB 1208 does not prevent any project, including CCMS.  Projects may still be funded and go forward provided that (1) they are funded other than with trial court operating funds, such as by the Improvement Fund, or the Modernization Fund, (2) separately appropriated by the Legislature, or (3) done with the consent of the trial courts.  In fact, Government Code 68085 already contains language mandating that the AOC first obtain the consent of the participating courts before using funds from the Trial Court Trust Fund for statewide IT projects.  However, the AOC and their General Counsel take the position that silence equals consent, and that no court actually utilizing the system has a right to object, even though Trust Fund money belongs to all courts, not just those actually utilizing some portion of CCMS.  AB 1208 would make it clear that all courts in the state would have a voice in these decisions, and would end the non-democratic “rule by fiat” system now in place.

.

Misconception: AB 1208 will hurt small or rural courts and advantage large urban courts.

Actuality: AB 1208 does not change the funding allocation percentages that have been in place for the last 14 years. Every court will receive the same percentage of the overall budget that it has always received.

.

Misconception: AB 1208 will prevent the Judicial Council from providing additional funding on an emergency basis to courts that need it.

.

Actuality: AB 1208 does not affect the Improvement Fund or Modernization Fund, except as those funds are directed to the trial courts within the budget. The Improvement Fund remains available to assist courts in need.  In fact, Government Code Section 77209(b) requires that at least ½ of 1% of the amount appropriated for trial court operations be set aside for the urgent needs of any court.  AB 1208 would in no way amend or repeal this section.

.

Misconception: AB 1208 will undo trial court unification and return to 58 “fiefdoms.” 

.

Actuality: AB 1208 does not affect unification.  Unification has occurred as a matter of constitutional law in all 58 counties. The bill does not alter the Judicial Council’s authority to ensure uniform practices. The bill does not change the Judicial Council’s rule-making authority.  The bill does not alter the uniform rules of practice and procedure.

.

Conclusion 

.

AB 1208 empowers every trial court and every trial judge of this state to have a fair and independent voice in the administration of trial court operations and in setting the priorities for the use of the money that judges need to do their jobs.  AB 1208 establishes a system that will be based upon consensus, not fiat.

.
Please contact us if you have any questions and we will respond.

.

AllianceOfCaliforniaJudges@gmail.com