The AOC’s priorities for the new year

Posted on February 19, 2012

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Last Thursday the management of the AOC held a meeting for supervisors and managers.

In that meeting, they outlined the AOC’s priorities for the new year.

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Priority number one – Back a dead horse and support Curtis Child in his effort to lobby for budget restoration for the AOC.

Priority number two – Plan for a fiscal year 2012/2013 budget reduction to the branch (say, doesn’t that conflict with priority number one?)

Priority number three – Continue to move forward on new court construction and CCMS deployment

Priority number four – Prepare for the results of the Strategic Evaluation Committee

Priority number five – Work on improving the morale of AOC employees.

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The reason we bring this priorities list up is that we think that anyone (and everyone) in the trial courts would have a different priorities list.  Is this list serving the courts for the benefit of all Californians or is it serving themselves at the cost of the trial courts?

Further on in the meeting, the management discusses possible layoffs due to priorities number two (budget cut) and number four (SEC report).  The general direction of possible layoffs is to ensure that they preserve the resources in building and maintaining courthouses and those that support CCMS, defining these as protected programs. In essence, the general direction of the AOC seems to be to save the boondoggles at all costs.

What would your top 5 priorities list look like?

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The following are someones’ meeting notes that were scanned and sent to us anonymously. Due to the size of the scanned files and our limited space for such documents, we will leave them up for a very short time. Note that most documents were scanned upside down.

AOC meeting0001 AOC meeting0002 AOC meeting0003 AOC meeting0004 AOC meeting0005 AOC meeting0006

Hot off the press courtesy of one of our many insiders

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Report from meeting of Council members and AOC management

Posted: February 21, 2012
Contact: AOC Executive Office, ext. 5-4235

Interim Administrative Director Jody Patel convened a special meeting on Feb 16 in our SF office for AOC directors, assistant directors, managers, and supervisors to give them an update and a chance to ask questions about issues facing the AOC and the judicial branch.

Jody invited 4 Judicial Council members to the meeting: Justice Douglas Miller (Executive and Planning Committee chair), Justice Harry Hull, Jr. (Rules and Projects Committee chair), Judge David Rosenberg (Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee chair), and Alan Carlson (Court Executives Advisory Committee chair). These council members shared their thoughts and helped answer questions.

NOTE: Due to our increased work demands and limited budget, AOC managers and supervisors in our regional locations joined the meeting by teleconference. In addition, the AOC Executive Office encouraged those in attendance to relay information shared at the meeting with their staffs.

Following are highlights of what information was shared at the Feb 16 meeting.

Jody thanks AOC staff for dedication, sets priorities for next several months
In her opening remarks at the meeting, our Interim Administrative Director of the Courts Jody Patel recognized our previous Administrative Directors Bill Vickrey and Ron Overholt for their extraordinary vision, work, and dedication to the AOC and the judicial branch. She also recognized her fellow directors and all AOC staff for their commitment and help through these challenging and transitional times.

Jody acknowledged that 2012 promises to be a year of change. But she also noted that even with the scrutiny and challenges that we face, the AOC has a great opportunity to become a better and stronger organization.

Jody shared her 5 priorities for the AOC over the next few months until we find a permanent Administrative Director:

  • Advocate for budget restoration for the judicial branch
  • Plan for anticipated AOC budget reductions for FY 2012-2013 ($17.6 million reduction for the AOC according to the Governor’s latest state budget proposal–that could increase if trigger cuts are enacted)
  • Align AOC priorities with Judicial Council priorities for statewide initiatives such as CCMS (Judicial Council expects to decide on a strategy for CCMS by its April meeting)
  • Prepare to respond to the SEC (Strategic Evaluation Committee) report on the AOC that we expect in April;
  • Keep up AOC staff morale and remind us of the important work we do

Justices on the council stress the need for the AOC
Justice Doug Miller and Justice Harry Hull acknowledged that it’s natural to be anxious about the scrutiny surrounding the AOC and changes to our organization. They also emphasized that the Chief Justice, the Judicial Council, and the AOC are in this together. They know that the AOC does great work, has accomplished a lot, and is needed to help strengthen and maintain our independent branch of government.

Justice Miller stressed that the Judicial Council and its members are different than in the past. Members are more vocal, more engaged, and want to be more out front and take more ownership of judicial branch issues. The council needs our help to carry out objectives and its members want to know what we do so they can defend us when they respond to their courts’ questions.

In addition to agreeing with Justice Miller’s comments, Justice Hull provided an update on behalf of the search committee for our new Administrative Director. The committee is finalizing the recruiting materials and expects to make a recommendation to the Chief Justice on a new director by the June Judicial Council meeting.

Council members from the trial courts acknowledge “centralized v. local control” friction
Presiding Judge David Rosenberg and Court Executive Officer Alan Carlson told meeting attendees that they have confidence in the Judicial Council and the AOC and that most court leaders value our work.

But they recognized that the governance of the judicial branch–that combines centralized statewide oversight with local control at the court level–creates a “push and pull” dynamic as we try to decide where the boundaries lie.

They added that these different voices get louder and more vocal in lean budget times.

Branch leaders field questions about AB 1208, the SEC and A&E committees, staff morale
During the last half of the meeting, Jody and the Judicial Council members invited questions from the AOC managers and supervisors in attendance. The Q&A portion of the meeting covered a variety of topics, including:

Q: How will the Judicial Council continue to confront intrusion into judicial branch governance (AB 1208)?

A. The council has taken an official position against AB 1208 and will continue to advocate against it because the bill is not in the best interests of the judicial branch. The Judicial Council feels that the judicial branch should be able to address its own issues without intrusion from the outside.

Q. What is the relationship between the SEC, A&E, and our own AOC reorganization efforts?

A. The SEC (Strategic Evaluation Committee) is independent from the council and the AOC. The SEC expects to present its report on the AOC to the council’s Executive and Planning Committee in April. Council members are not sure what the report will contain. Some recommendations might be able to be implemented right away, some may go out for public comment, or some may not be advisable at all. The Chief Justice and the council will know more once they receive the report.

The council’s A&E committee (Advisory Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency for the Judicial Branch) allows the council to do its own review of the AOC, its staff and budget so it can become more familiar with our work. The committee plans to follow up the initial overall report on the AOC it completed with a more in-depth review of each AOC division.

With help from staff, the AOC Executive Team is conducting its own review of our structure and programs. We’ve already made some changes and this reengineering process will help us prepare for any recommendations stemming from the SEC report. The AOC Executive Team realizes that our cuts to staff and resources have not always resulted in cutting back on our programs and services, which often means we’re doing the same with less.

Q. Can you tell us more about the idea to have Judicial Council liaisons for each local court and AOC division?

A. Before the budget cuts to the judicial branch, AOC staff would help coordinate periodic in-person visits from Judicial Council members to local courts so they could talk with judges and court staff about their challenges, concerns, and services to the public. Cancelling this program has affected our communication with local courts.

To gain back some of this perspective, the council plans to designate council members to serve as liaisons for a particular court. Those liaisons would rotate each year.

The council also plans to extend this strategy to the AOC, designating a liaison for each AOC division so they can get a better idea of our work and be better prepared to respond to questions they receive.

Q. What is the role and makeup of the AOC Regional Office and its 3 office locations?

A. Several months ago we condensed the 3 Regional Administrative Director positions that oversaw each location (BACNRO, NCRO, and SRO) into one Regional Administrative Director for what we now refer to as the AOC Regional Office. That strategy will continue with Chris Patton taking on that director position in addition to her role with the AOC Executive Office. We feel that this strategy is cost-efficient and manageable as we’ve found that some of the larger courts don’t need or use our regional office services as much as the smaller or mid-size courts.

Other than this change in leadership, the AOC Regional Office, with its 3 locations in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Burbank will continue. Each of these locations has a core regional office staff in addition to other staff from AOC divisions that provide direct expert services to the courts on a regional basis.

Q. What is the plan to address AOC staff morale?

A. Jody stressed that one of the best ways to address staff morale or anxiety is to communicate truthfully, honestly, and regularly. She said that she expects to continue holding regular meetings with AOC managers and supervisors and to get information shared at those meetings to staff as well. She also plans to supplement that with e-mail updates.

In addition, she expects that we’ll hold the AOC All-Staff Regional Meetings (that were postponed this month) later this year.

Jody and the council members added their desire to keep improving communications among and between the council, the AOC, and the courts. And that this time of reflection and transition provides us the opportunity to improve the AOC and the judicial branch in the long run.