ACJ Message – Continued mixed messages cause confusion

Posted on August 14, 2012

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August 13, 2012

Dear Members and Others:

We include today’s Dan Walters column from the Sacramento Bee and a Daily Journal news piece on last Thursday’s meeting of the Executive and Planning Committee. Both highlight, in different ways, the difficulty in reconciling various recent statements of our leaders.

Mr. Walters refers to one that confused us as well, having to do with the Chief Justice stating her “pleasure” at the adoption of a recent trailer bill containing the funding elements of AB 1208, although she had consistently disseminated comments indicating her unwavering opposition to the bill. Our confusion was heightened by the fact that the AOC vigorously lobbied against those changes up until the moment of their enactment. After numerous written attempts to have those involved clarify things, and only after intervention by the latest interim Director of the AOC, did we receive this less than helpful response from Mr. Curtis Child:

“In answer to your question, the positions that my staff and I have advocated and continue to advocate regarding the judicial branch budget have been and continue to be consistent with Judicial Council policy. I do not have any additional information that would assist you with what was described in your email as a ‘puzzling turn of events.’”

Today’s Daily Journal article raises similar questions. Last week, we asked Justice Miller to exercise his discretion and open the E and P meeting to judges and the public. Judge Charles Wachob, Chair of the Strategic Evaluation Committee, made the same request.

Justice Miller never communicated either his decision, or his reasoning, to us and the meeting remained closed. Justice Miller did explain his reluctance to open the meeting to the press, however, and downplayed the importance of the meeting. As reported in last Friday’s Daily Journal:

“Miller said he doesn’t think it was important to make the meeting public because it won’t include any action, rather review of the recommendations and of public comment and the development of input to the council on how the recommendations might be adopted. ‘We’re not the determinative body, we’re not making any decisions,’ Miller said.”

We pointed out to you on Friday that in fact E and P does make decisions and would do so at the meeting, and that those decisions would carry great weight. Today’s Daily Journal again quoted Justice Miller:

“’Some of the SEC’s recommendations will be adopted verbatim,‘” Miller said. ‘Some were tweaked a little to fit with the organization, some were broadened, some we further defined, and some have largely been accomplished.’ “

Since we were barred from the meeting, we are left to wonder how it is that Justice Miller and other members of the E and P Committee who have proclaimed that the report will be implemented–one even chastising judges who have expressed doubts in their public comments and elsewhere–can do so with such confidence? How can Justice Miller possibly know which recommendations will be implemented “verbatim” and which will require “tweaking,” if in fact Justice Miller’s quote from last week is accurate? We will not attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.

We are also concerned that Justice Miller confidently states that certain recommendations have already been implemented by the AOC. Because the meeting was closed, we can only surmise that on this point Justice Miller is simply repeating representations made by the AOC to his E and P Committee. We have learned, as has the State Auditor and the Legislature, that accepting AOC representations at face value is not a wise course of action. We strongly urge the Council to seek independent verification of any AOC claim that they have already complied in part with the recommendations in the SEC report. We believe that the Strategic Evaluation Committee should be put in charge of this verification, not the E and P Committee, which appears far too willing to uncritically accept these representations.

As to the E and P member who today publicly decried “rumors” that the SEC report would be “buried” by the Council, we point out that the best way to avoid such “rumors” is to join with the Alliance of California Judges and SEC Chair Judge Wachob and urge opening to the public any and all future E and P meetings dealing with the report.

Thank you for your continued support.

Directors,

Alliance of California Judges

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State’s long judicial battle still raging

By Dan Walters – The  Sacramento Bee

Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012 | 08:11 PM

For years, hundreds of Superior Court judges have waged a political rebellion against what they considered to be an oppressive and bloated state judicial bureaucracy based in San Francisco.

The rebels, gathered under the banner of the Alliance of California Judges, alleged that the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), an arm of the State Judicial Council, was wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on itself, on an unworkable computer system, and on a grandiose courthouse construction program while starving local courts.

The rebellion, stemming from a state takeover of local court financing in the 1990s, erupted during former Chief Justice Ron George’s reign, and Tani Cantil-Sakauye inherited it when she succeeded George in 2010.

Cantil-Sakauye tried to steer a center course, pledging to enact reforms while opposing legislation that would reduce the AOC’s authority over local court budgets. She denounced the measure, backed by rebel judges and unions representing court employees, as an intrusion on judicial independence.

In the last few months, however, the rebels scored a series of stunning victories. The Judicial Council abandoned the controversial computer system, a “Strategic Evaluation Committee” appointed by Cantil-Sakauye issued a massive report that agreed with much of what the Alliance of California Judges had been alleging about the AOC’s high-handedness, and a budget “trailer bill” enacted in June included restrictions on the AOC’s financial power that the rebels had sought.

The critical report and pressure from the Service Employees International Union clearly played central roles in getting the legislation passed, overcoming reportedly heavy opposition from AOC lobbyists.

Cantil-Sakauye declared herself to be “pleased.”

Does that mean the civil war that has ripped apart the state’s judiciary is settled? Hardly.

The trailer bill that so pleased the rebels is an adjunct to a new state budget that slashes judicial support again.

Meanwhile, conflicts over the Strategic Evaluation Committee’s reform recommendations are emerging.

Hundreds of judges have posted comments on the Judicial Council’s website, most demanding that the reforms be activated. But the Alliance of California Judges fears they will be buried.

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Daily Journal excerpt – Cen$ored by corporate greed.

Plans to reform court administrative office remain under wraps

Judges review most of the recommendations and plan to meet later for further discussion.

By Paul Jones

Few details have emerged about a closed meeting of a state Judicial Council committee to vet recommendations for reform of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Those who attended the all-day meeting Thursday offered nonspecific information about their discussion, while others couldn’t be reached for comment.

Members of the Judicial Council’s Executive and Planning Committee, the president of the California Judges Association and members of the Strategic Evaluation Committee created by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye met in a closed meeting to analyze the recommendations, which focus on how to reform the Administrative Office of the Courts. The recommendations were included in a May report on the agency by the Strategic Evaluation Committee.

According to judges present at the meeting, attendants reviewed all but 19 of the report’s nearly 151 recommendations, and they are set to meet again on Aug. 21 to discuss the remaining recommendations in advance of the Judicial Council’s Aug. 31 meeting, at which many of the recommendations are scheduled to be considered.

The report was highly critical of the AOC, recommending significant layoffs and urging greater oversight of the agency by the Judicial Council.

Justice Douglas P. Miller of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, the Executive and Planning Committee chair, said the meeting was “tremendously productive and successful” but that the committee ran out of time to finish discussing all of the recommendations. He provided no specifics about the committee’s position on how the council should consider the report’s recommendations.

“Some of the SEC’s recommendations will be adopted verbatim,” Miller said. “Some were tweaked a little to fit with the organization, some were broadened, some we further defined, and some have largely been accomplished.”

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