AOC Raises skirted committee review

Posted on August 17, 2012

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August 16, 2012

Dear Members and Others:

As you know, the majority of AOC employees have received pay raises the past three years running. On June 25, 2010, then-Chief Justice Ronald George, reacting to public discomfiture over proposed AOC raises, announced the formation of the new “Judicial Council Advisory Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency for the Judicial Branch.” He appointed Council member and then-Justice of the Court of Appeal Tani Cantil-Sakauye to chair the new committee.

The committee’s creation was accompanied by much AOC fanfare, including the attached news release, which promised that the new committee would guarantee “accountability and transparency,” and further stated that among the Committee’s responsibilities would be to:

“…Each year review proposed changes in the annual compensation plan for the AOC and make recommendations to the Chief Justice, Judicial Council, and the Administrative Director of the Courts. The Chief Justice is charged by law with making the final decision.”

Some hoped that the new committee would actually undertake its duties as advertised. The (then) President of the California Judges Association, Judge Michael Vicencia, was quoted in the same AOC press release as follows:

“I am pleased that the Chief Justice has taken this step toward greater accountability and oversight of the AOC by judges and other members of the judicial branch. As elected members of the branch, it is the responsibility of every judge to ensure public governance. My hope is that this new committee will help fulfill that obligation.”

Justice Cantil-Sakauye made the presentation in support of the retroactive raises at the next Council meeting. Chief Justice George excused himself from the meeting, saying he had a luncheon date. Justice Cantil-Sakauye stated that the committee had “struggled over whether this is a pay raise,” reasoning that “if I make a hundred dollars and give up eight, then I get three dollars back–that’s not a pay raise as I understand it.” Committee member Miriam Krinsky, currently a member of the Judicial Council, added that AOC employees “have had to bear the brunt of the state’s financial hardships, through a mandatory furlough and by giving up their cost of living adjustments.”

Former AOC employee and spokesman Phillip Carrizosa characterized the raises as “merit increases,” (the current raises are similarly denominated) stating that “employees will still have to meet their supervisor’s expectations to receive their pay increases. If an employee’s performance does not meet expectations, the supervisor can deny an MSA (merit salary increase) to that employee.” (See the article from the Courthouse News Service of October 29, 2010, included herein.) Of course, we know from the SEC report that the AOC has no coherent system of employee evaluation in place to determine which, if any, employees merit such raises.

Notwithstanding the promise that the Accountability and Efficiency Committee would review these AOC raises on a yearly basis, the current chair of the Committee, former Executive and Planning Committee chair Justice Richard Huffman, responded this week to a request for information on the matter which pointed out that his committee had been created expressly to deal with AOC raises, as well as other matters. He responded by saying, “The A and E committee has not considered any AOC compensation issues in the time I have been chair of the committee and I am not personally aware of any raises given to AOC staff, thus I have no answer to your other questions.” In a subsequent email he explained, “I take directions from the Executive and Planning Committee of the Council. Your inquiries should be directed to Justice Miller.” Responding to a request for further clarification of his remarks, Justice Huffman went on to say that the role of his committee had not been fully defined by the Executive and Planning Committee, and that until it was his committee would simply take its directions from Justice Miller and accept whatever assignments came its way. He also stated that although his committee’s charge included the AOC’s compensation system, the scope of its duties in that area “would depend on what you define as pay raises.” He stated his belief that any raises given the AOC were”merit salary increases” and had been authorized by the Chief Justice.

We are not surprised that the changes promised by the AOC, former Chief Justice George and the Judicial Council have not come to fruition. Frankly, it was clear to most of us that the formation of the committee was simply a way to deflect public criticism, to give the appearance of deliberation and judgment to a course of action already decided upon. The fact that the Committee now simply awaits piecework from the E and P Committee underscores this fact with remarkable clarity.

To those who argue that things have changed, it is often helpful to look backward and compare then to now. Then at least there was concern enough about AOC raises to erect the trappings of a deliberative body to make recommendations to the Chief Justice on that issue. Now it appears that not even that degree of concern exists, for the Chief Justice has acted alone, without input from the very committee created to give her guidance on this point.

On another point, we have learned that the AOC attorney who has been telecommuting from Switzerland will be returning shortly. He did, by the way, receive several thousand dollars a year in pay increases over the past two years.

Thank you for your continued support.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

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October 20, 2010
Judicial Council Leans in Favor of Raise
By MARIA DINZEO

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Members of the governing body for California judges on Friday showed a clear inclination in favor of a retroactive 3.5 percent pay hike for administrators, after refusing to allow dissenting judges to speak. California’s incoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said she struggled with the decision but ultimately decided in favor, later bringing a sharp critique from a trial court judge.

“I’ve struggled over whether this is a pay raise,” said Cantil-Sakauye who noted that members of the committee considering the raises discussed the matter for two and a half hours before recommending in favor. “I see it as if I make a hundred dollars and give up eight, then I get three dollars back — that’s not a raise as I understand it.”

The incoming Chief Justice, who is up for voter approval next week, also noted that the increases would be self-sustaining, as the money would not be taken from money for trial court operations

“They can call it whatever they want,” said Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard, who watched a telecast of the meeting. “At the end of the day if your check was a $1,000 now its $1,200 that’s a pay raise. I think this game of parsing the language is a big reason why the public is so disgusted with those people who are in power.”

Cantil-Sakauye gave a presentation as chairperson of the new Committee on Accountability and Efficiency recommending that the pay hikes be OK’d. Outgoing Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George, who makes the final decision on the issue, excused himself before the presentation, saying he had a lunch appointment.

Almost eight out of ten of roughly 950 employees working for the Administrative Office of the Courts are eligible for a 3.5 percent salary bump. Pay increases would also be available for some employees of the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. According to the committee’s report, the increases would total about $1.1 million and would be funded with money from the administrative agency’s budget.

Earlier in the week, the committee had denied a request from trial judges to speak against pay increases for administrators while their cash-strapped trial courts suffer from pay cuts, lay-offs and furloughs for employees caused by the state’s financial crisis.

“Although court closures are no longer mandated, many trial courts will be compelled to implement furloughs in any case,” said the letter from the dissenting judges. “Effectively many of our trial employees will continue to suffer up to a 5 percent pay cut.”

After Friday’s Judicial Council meeting, Judge Gilliard in Sacramento commented, “If it takes two and a half hours to justify a 3.5 percent pay raise, it’s probably not the right decision.”
She went on to say that every employee in her court took a five percent pay cut through furloughs and voluntarily gave up a six percent pay increase to which they were entitled after years of bargaining. AOC employees are not unionized, and Gilliard said they “are not contractually obligated or under any legal obligation to get a raise.”

However, AOC Director Bill Vickrey said during the Judicial Council meeting, “We have an obligation to those staff who merit at the top of the scale. If we have the ability to honor that commitment, we should honor it.”

AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa said in an email that employees will still have to meet their supervisor’s expectations to receive their pay increases. “If an employee’s performance does not meet expectations, the supervisor can deny an MSA [merit salary increase] to that employee.”

Attorney Miriam Aroni Krinsky, also a member of the Judicial Council and its new committee, said she supported the pay increases for those employees who “have had to bear the brunt” of the state’s financial hardships, through a one day a month mandatory furlough and by giving up their cost of living adjustments. “I know when we talk about money it tends to be an emotional issue. I think it’s sad that the outcry by some should be ‘it doesn’t look good’ Sometimes we have to do the right thing.”

Court of Appeal Associate Justice Richard Huffman, another member of the Judicial Council, said some had argued that the money could instead be spent on trial courts. “That isn’t accurate,” he said. “It is not taking money from somebody to give to someone else.” If the pay raises were denied, he said, “Not a thin dime will go to trial courts.”

On the other side of the coin, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Tia Fisher, a member of a judges’ group critical of the AOC’s spending practices called the Alliance of California Judges, was present at the Judicial Council meeting on Friday. She said that if the raises are ultimately approved, as is now likely, the money will come from the taxpayers.

“It’s still all taxpayer money,” she said in an interview. “In our dire budget situation, to propose raises makes no sense. It’s unfortunate that we were not allowed to speak on an issue that’s important to the public.”

“It’s not AOC money; it’s tax payer money,” Gilliard added. “It’s from people who go to court and pay filing fees so they can have their day in court. If you have two and a half hours of time available to you to describe and spin why a 3.5 percent pay raise is not a pay raise, you can certainly spend that time to draft a memo to the Department of Finance and ask to give that money to historically underfunded trial courts.”

______________________________________

JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF CALIFORNIA ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS

Public Information Office 455 Golden Gate Avenue San Francisco, CA 94102-3688 http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov

415-865-7740

Lynn Holton Public Information Officer

NEWS RELEASE

Release Number: 27 Release Date: June 25, 2010 Chief Justice George Names

New Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency for Judicial Branch

San Francisco—Chief Justice Ronald M. George today announced the appointment of a new Judicial Council Advisory Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency for the Judicial Branch. The purpose of the committee is to promote transparency, accountability, efficiency, and understanding of the work of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and the judicial branch.

“The structural changes in the California court system over the last 13 years have dramatically increased the demands of the 58 trial courts on the AOC,” stated Chief Justice George. “As the agency’s responsibilities and services to the courts have increased, so have the resources entrusted to it.”

“We expect that the work of the advisory committee will enable us to increase understanding about the needs of the state judicial branch, as well as ensure measures of transparency and accountability that are appropriate in the use of public resources,” he continued. “At the same time, the additional review of budget requests and audit reports will help the Judicial Council set priorities and meet the needs of state courts and the millions of Californians that we serve.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael P. Vicencia, president of the California Judges Association, commented, “I am pleased that the Chief Justice has taken this step toward greater accountability and oversight of the AOC by judges and other members of the judicial branch. As elected members of the branch, it is the responsibility of every judge to ensure public governance. My hope is that this new committee will help fulfill that obligation.”

The 12-member advisory committee is chaired by Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, of the Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District

(over)

(Sacramento). Members include an administrative presiding justice of the state Courts of Appeal; five members of the Judicial Council, who are justices and judges; the chair and vice chair of the council’s Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee; two judicial administrators; one member of the governing board of the California Judges Association; and two representatives of the State Bar.

The position of vice-chair of the council’s Trial Court Presiding Judges Committee is now vacant. When that position is filled, the vice-chair will be appointed as a member of the new committee.

The advisory committee will be a standing committee of the Judicial Council, charged with the following responsibilities:

Each year, prior to submission to the State Department of Finance, review Budget Change Proposals for funding of the AOC and make recommendations to the Chief Justice, Judicial Council, and Administrative Director of the Courts.

Each year, review proposed changes in the annual compensation plan for the AOC and make recommendations to the Chief Justice, Judicial Council, and the Administrative Director of the Courts. The Chief Justice is charged by law with making the final decision.

Review all financial audit reports for the Judicial Branch and, where appropriate, make recommendations to the Judicial Council on individual or systemic issues for the Judicial Council’s consideration at the time it receives and considers audit reports.

Advise on other issues related to the committee charge as requested by the Chief Justice, Judicial Council, and Administrative Director of the Courts.

The Chief Justice created the committee as a Judicial Council advisory committee under the authority set forth in the California Rules of Court, rule 10.30(g). Members are appointed for one-year terms.

A membership roster is attached.

-#-

The Judicial Council is the policymaking body of the California courts, the largest court system in the nation. Under the leadership of the Chief Justice and in accordance with the California Constitution, the council is responsible for ensuring the consistent, independent, impartial, and accessible administration of justice. The Administrative Office of the Courts carries out the official actions of the council and ensures leadership and excellence in court administration.

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ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON FINANCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY AND EFFICIENCY FOR THE JUDICIAL BRANCH

Chair: Members:

Appointments effective June 24, 2010, for terms ending June 20, 2011

Hon. Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Associate Justice, Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District

Hon. Peter C. Deddeh, Judge, Superior Court of San Diego County and Member, California Judges Association Executive Board

Hon. Kevin A. Enright, Chair, Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee

Hon. Ira R. Kaufman, Presiding Judge, Superior Court of Plumas County

Ms. Miriam A. Krinsky, Lecturer, School of Public Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles, and Attorney at Law

Hon. William R. McGuiness, Administrative Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, First Appellate District

Hon. Mary Ann O’Malley, Presiding Judge, Superior Court of Contra Costa County

Mr. James N. Penrod, Attorney at Law

Hon. Burt Pines, Judge, Superior Court of Los Angeles County

Mr. Michael D. Planet, Court Executive Officer, Superior Court of Ventura County

Ms. Kim Turner, Court Executive Officer, Superior Court of Marin County

Hon. Sharon J. Waters, Judge, Superior Court of Riverside County

Mr. James Tilton, Retired from State of California, former Secretary, California Department of Corrections, and former Program Budget Manager, California Department of Finance, Sacramento, California.

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