Halt construction and divert funding to the trial courts

Posted on May 3, 2012

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Isn’t it time yet?


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One of the craziest arguments we’ve seen pushed forth by those who wish to build is that price shouldn’t be a concern worth mentioning. Op-eds like those of Judge O’Malley in Contra Costa promoting court construction over keeping the courthouse doors open are irresponsible. Slick advertising from the AOC’s propaganda directorate regarding the condition of the worst of courthouses being replaced also fails to touch on costs. Of course, nothing mentions that these courthouses that are being built may not be necessary. With all of the layoffs, some of the worst buildings can be shut down without being rebuilt.

Let’s be clear about one thing: These are some of the world’s most expensive courthouses that are being built using first rate materials. Even if the justices manage to shave 20% off the costs, they will remain some of the world’s most expensive courthouses.  The most expensive area in a courthouse actually has the least amount in it – and that is that third circulation area for the incarcerated that is typically built to prison standards.  If you analyze the timeline vs. price of these courthouses, they went up in price with every month that ticked by utilizing false assumptions. That was unrealistic from the start but let’s really have a discussion about where all of that money really goes for court construction.

About 500 AOC and temp jobs are paid for by court construction funds. Hundreds of those jobs have nothing to do with construction or supporting construction activities. They’re jobs in the education department, HR, IS, Executive Office, communications, cfcc, regional offices, etc etc. Only about half of these people are engaged in either the management or construction of courthouses. All of the other people contribute to the AOC’s considerable bloat and are paid for with construction funds.

How many jobs in your court are paid for by construction funds? Yet 25% of the monies in the court construction funds are to be used for local projects. Would keeping people employed be considered a local project?

After years of being under the cost microscope and a recent sham lawsuit that the AOC intentionally lost by continuing to deny the existence of  Team Jacobs (more on this later) more and more people are demanding an end to the construction program. When they know that the construction program is paying for 500 AOC jobs while the courts curtail hours and lose valuable employees, they don’t want to abolish the construction program, they want to abolish the AOC.

And the rumors emanating from Sacramento is that the Judicial Council and the AOC have continued to mismanage things so badly and our cutsie-poo chief justice is so politically inept that the whole judicial branch is being advised to brace for additional further cuts. 

It’s time to freeze construction and sweep construction funds for court operations, move court construction over to DGS and permanently downsize the AOC.

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April 30, 2012

Dear Members and Others,

State revenues continue to fall below projections and, like you, we are watching to see what that might mean for the judicial branch budget. In November voters will be asked to pass judgment on a couple of different initiatives which, if approved, would generate additional monies. The outcome of that election could result in an additional $125 million dollar “trigger cut” to the judiciary.

As judges we know how important it is to have all of the facts before a reasoned judgment can be made. That is why the Alliance has taken the position that all courthouse construction projects that are not already in the actual construction phase should be suspended until all budgetary facts are known. We are very concerned that the AOC will continue to encumber funds for construction that could otherwise be used to mitigate additional budget cuts to the courts.

As we learned from the CCMS debacle, the AOC seemingly operates without proper oversight and accountability. We need to be assured that our limited public resources are being managed prudently. In that regard, a full accounting and review of the massive construction program must be undertaken by the State Auditor. Too much is at stake for our justice system.

Attached is an excellent piece by Sacramento columnist Dan Walters concerning the multibillion-dollar courthouse construction project. Rest assured that the Alliance will continue to advocate for local courts and be the voice of reform.

Thank you for your continued support.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

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Posted on Sun, Apr. 29, 2012

WALTERS: Judges’ war over facilities is entering its next phase

By Dan Walters

A professional-quality video clip popped up on YouTube last week, depicting the physical deficiencies in California courtrooms and making the case for building new courthouses and rehabbing old ones.

The video, containing scene after scene of overcrowded courtrooms, mouse traps and water damage, was produced for the Judicial Council, the San Francisco-based policymaking body for California’s judicial system. And it’s ammunition in the latest skirmish between the council, which is headed by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, and the rebellious Alliance of California Judges over how to deal with cutbacks in state court financing.

The ACJ has accused the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts of wasting money on a bloated bureaucracy, an unworkable centralized computer system and a multibillion-dollar courthouse construction program while local courts have been forced into periodic shutdowns and employee furloughs.

The Alliance won one skirmish recently when the Judicial Council cancelled the computer program. The rebels also won Assembly passage of a bill, bitterly opposed by Cantil-Sakauye and her allies, that would give local courts more authority over allocation of funds.

And now the battle is shifting to the construction program, which critics say is too grandiose and is gobbling up money that should be diverted into support for court operations.

In 2008, the Legislature, at the behest of Cantil-Sakauye’s predecessor, Ron George, authorized up to $5 billion in bonds to finance courthouse construction, to be repaid through increases in fines, fees and assessments on court system users.

Some of that income stream has already been diverted into operations to offset reductions in judicial allocations from the state budget, and last week, as it placed the video on YouTube, the Judicial Council endorsed, conceptually, a reassessment of the construction program that would, it said, “yield significant long-term savings.”

Thirteen projects are to be reassessed while another 24 are to proceed with some budget reductions, even if it means departing from the council’s design standards.

But the ACJ isn’t placated. While it endorsed the construction slenderizing, it also told the Judicial Council that it should suspend all courthouse contracting “until the budget picture becomes more clear,” noting that the courts could face even more budget cuts due to lower-than-expected state revenues. The Alliance also is seeking an independent review of construction costs by the state auditor.

The Judicial Council’s action, the Alliance’s criticisms and the state’s shaky finances set the stage for a showdown in the Capitol as Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators look for more ways to close an ever-growing, multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

THE SACRAMENTO BEE