AOC Telecommuting: When a few equals 98 & an editorial by Judge Dan Goldstein

Posted on June 4, 2012

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June 4, 2012

Dear Members and Others,

In an editorial which ran in The Recorder June 1, Alliance Director, Judge Daniel Goldstein, wrote an excellent summation of the recently released SEC report, calling for the democratization of the Judicial Council and the passage of AB 1208. Both of these reform measures are needed to restore balance and credibility to the judicial branch. That editorial is reprinted below.

Some troubling information has come to our attention concerning the AOC and its liberal telecommuting policy. The SEC report noted that the AOC failed to follow its own personnel policies in a number of areas, including the telecommuting policy. For example, the report noted:

While the AOC personnel manual encompasses the personnel practices to be followed by the organization, the policies are not enforced. For example, there is a policy limiting the number of days per month employees can work remotely, away from AOC offices. This telecommute policy has been ignored. At the time this review was undertaken, at least three employees worked all of their hours on a long-term basis outside the State of California and, in one case, outside the United States. (SEC Report, page 12.)
In another instance, a supervising attorney in the Office of General Counsel has telecommuted from Monterey County several days per week. Granting special exceptions to the personnel rules, or disregarding them altogether, undermines an effective personnel system. (SEC Report, page 67.)
The Alliance has been interested in AOC telecommuting policies for quite some time, and we have made several information requests of our own in this area over the past several weeks. Likewise, we believe the press has been interested in these matters, also seeking information from the AOC.

Last month, one high-ranking AOC director was asked in writing whether the two full-time telecommuting attorneys (one in Switzerland) were the only two people working from home. The answer was, “No, while Mr. Torr works remotely full-time, several other AOC employees in multiple divisions work remotely for some percentage of the time, pursuant to the AOC’s Personnel Policy 8.9.“

Our dictionary says that the word “several” means “more than two, but not many.” Apparently at the AOC, it means 98 (not counting the Swiss).

Within the past four weeks, the AOC’s Mr. Carrizosa turned over documentation to another individual that purports to list all AOC employees who telecommute for some portion of the month. Curiously, though the AOC admits that at least one individual telecommutes full time, his name does not appear on this list. Ninety-eight employees are listed, including one who makes $198,500.00 per year and telecommutes 8 days per month. The list includes Senior Attorneys, Managing Attorneys, Supervising Attorneys, a Regional Director and a number of Managers. For 20 of the 98, it is impossible to tell how many days per month they work from home, as their status is described simply as “ad hoc” telecommuters. We have attached the list for your information.

Parenthetically, Mr. Carrizosa released the list on May 4, and stated in an accompanying document that as of that date the AOC had “801 employees.” On May 1, he put the figures at “about 750.” We note that the SEC report documented that as of 12/31/11, the AOC employed over 1000 individuals. Perhaps Mr. Carrizosa, like several others at the AOC, simply forgot to add in the 204 contract and “temporary” employees that AOC directors have habitually overlooked in their staffing reports. Let’s just say they have “several” employees.

The list of telecommuters is included as an attachment.

Thank you for your continued support.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

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Viewpoint: AOC Is Top-Heavy and Dysfunctional

Daniel Goldstein 2012-06-01 08:59:22 AM

The Strategic Evaluation Committee report released May 25 was a scathing indictment of the San Francisco-based Administrative Office of the Courts. The nearly 300-page report was the product of a yearlong review of the AOC by judges and justices selected for the task by the current chief justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

It is worth noting that even the process of information gathering was not without resistance. As the administrative office for the judicial branch one would expect prompt, candid, complete and accurate dissemination of information. Unfortunately “some AOC employees who were interviewed or who responded to surveys were defensive or resisted providing information.” Also some information provided by the AOC was incomplete or inaccurate and the SEC “encountered numerous delays” in gathering some of the needed information. As for the AOC financial processes, the report concluded: “It is difficult to obtain clear, comprehensible budget information” and “[s]ome requests for budget information still have not been resolved satisfactorily.”

The report’s condemnation of the AOC echoes criticisms leveled by California state auditor Elaine Howle in her exhaustive 2011 report on the AOC’s failed Court Case Management System. The SEC report provides further undeniable evidence of the need to reform not only the AOC, but also to democratize the selection of the members of the Judicial Council. For years, the group’s revolving-door membership (one member served for 15 years) has been little more than a rubber stamp for AOC actions. This obvious lack of oversight was largely responsible for the AOC’s abysmal performance. As the report noted, “the commitment to increased transparency, accountability and efficiency — and the tone and attitude of the [AOC] — ultimately rests with the Judicial Council.”

The report, which includes more than 100 recommendations for reforming and overhauling the agency, concludes that AOC decision making is insular; the organization is top heavy, dysfunctional, greatly overstaffed and unwieldy, with a structure that “has proved ineffective and unworkable.” This has in part resulted in the AOC losing its focus of providing service to the trial courts. Some of these observations apply equally to the Judicial Council.

Perhaps even more disturbing than the report’s findings regarding devastating financial decisions and appalling project planning is the overarching conclusion of the SEC that the AOC simply lacks credibility — financial data and “facts” issuing from the agency are often misleading, incomplete or flat-out untrue. For example, the report found that the agency’s leadership actively and continually misstated the number of its employees, as well as the degree to which it had shared in branch budget cuts. It misled the pubic, court employees and the judicial branch about its oft trumpeted “one-day per month furlough program.” The AOC furloughs, unlike those imposed by the courts, gave voluntary participants a credit of one day of leave time for each furlough day taken.

Further, it engaged in faux “hiring freezes” while continuing to add large numbers of temporary and permanent employees. The report found that these material misstatements came from the very top of the AOC, and that false data remains posted on the AOC website now. The overall tenor of the report describes an imperialistic and bloated bureaucracy, intent on growth and escalating power that was predominantly unrestrained by meaningful oversight. The unabashed growth of the organization was pursued without consideration of the fiscal impact on the judiciary and without consultation or consideration of input or viewpoints of courts and judges.

It is important to recognize that “the AOC reached its historical peak level of staff in the 2010-2011 fiscal year — 1,121 positions — even in the face of cuts to judicial branch funding.” It is significant to recognize that while the current chief justice was not sworn in until Jan. 3, 2011, she had been a voting member of the Judicial Council since September of 2008 — during this period of unabashed growth. She was the chair of the Advisory Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency for the judicial branch that recommended retroactive raises for approximately 80 percent of AOC staff in October 2010, in the midst of a financial crisis. This came as judges were being asked to forfeit salary.

Also noteworthy is the report’s finding that staff reductions that have since taken place “have been achieved primarily through attrition and programs such as the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program” and that the AOC has taken no proactive steps with regard to staff reductions.

Extraordinarily, none of the organizational charts provided to the SEC showed the Judicial Council at the top. Perhaps the years of lack of accountability, nonexistent scrutiny, deficient oversight and perpetual growth fed the AOC’s self-image as above even the council and the courts. As it was described in the report: “The AOC has developed a culture of control, diminishing its orientation to service.”

Other disturbing disclosures involved the AOC ignoring its own policy manual by allowing certain employees to telecommute from outside the state of California, and in one case, from outside the country. One individual was classified as a “resident scholar” and paid handsomely while working part time and residing out of state.

The AOC employee classification system has morphed into an unwieldy scheme composed of more than 200 job classifications based on unspecified or nonexistent criteria. This vague and unworkable system “has been abused as a way to provide higher compensation to employees.” There are numerous situations where “employees are being paid more — and in some cases substantially more — than is appropriate in light of the duties assigned to them.” The AOC also maintains a policy allowing geographic salary modifications. Unfortunately there are circumstances where, inexplicably, “employees receive an increased pay differential even though they are not headquartered in the higher-paying geographic region.” All of these practices allow management to reward favored employees with additional pay without any real justification or systematic controls.

Two “judges in residence” and a retired “assistant director” of the AOC were provided high-paying jobs that lacked a sufficient job description, monitoring criteria or cost-benefit analysis. The practice of engaging these individuals was highly suspect in light of the number of attorneys already employed by the AOC and other resources available to the organization.

Those responsible for preparation of this report should be commended for their efforts, and their recommendations should be immediately implemented as a necessary step toward reform. The democratization of the council and the enactment of AB 1208, a commonsense financial reform bill bitterly opposed by the bloated agency, are even more important components of cleaning up the mess that out-of-control centralization has caused.

Daniel Goldstein is a San Diego County Superior Court judge and a director of the Alliance of California Judges.

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Note: We ran the telecommuting list by some former senior AOC employees. They indicated that  most of the people who placed hours days per month telecommuting should have a Y next to ad-hoc and that most seniors and above can telecommute as required – and that this list of employees is partial and excludes many supervisors and above who routinely telecommute 2 or more days per month. “A few” being only 98 is estimated to be about 150 employees short. 

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