2009 Email Surfaces in AOC Trailer Bill Ploy

Posted on September 6, 2012



September 6, 2012

Dear Members and Others:

By now you know that the incoming Executive Director of the AOC has chosen his top three staff members. While we were not surprised that current acting Executive Director Jody Patel and acting Chief Deputy Director Curt Soderland were chosen (as they would otherwise lose their jobs with the elimination of the AOC Regional Offices), we were perplexed by the selection of the AOC’s top lobbyist, Curt Child, as the new Chief Operating Officer.

It was Mr. Child or one of his subordinates who was responsible for the drafting of trailer bill language in 2009 which would have, among other things, stripped the local courts of the right to elect their own Presiding and Assistant Presiding Judges. You will recall that at the time this 11th hour sneaky power play was uncovered, the AOC attempted to place the blame on the Governor’s Department of Finance staff. Once that maneuver failed, the explanation was that this was never a bill that the Judicial Council or AOC would have supported.

In any event, the Alliance has continued to pursue the truth about the origins of this trailer bill as well as the identity of those responsible for its drafting. Six weeks ago Alliance Director Judge David Lampe directly asked Ms. Donna Hershkowitz, Mr. Child’s top lieutenant, whether she had been responsible. She simply ignored the request. Thereafter, he made the same request of Ms. Jody Patel, soon to be the AOC Chief of Staff. Judge Lampe wrote:

August 6, 2012

Dear Ms. Patel:

On July 18, I sent a straightforward email to Ms Hershkowitz, as set forth below. The only contact I have received is the automated “out of office reply” which follows. I am not the only one having problems getting timely and candid responses from your staff. Judge Gilliard had great difficulty obtaining a response from Mr. Child regarding his lobbying efforts against the amendments to Govt. Code 68085 which the Chief Justice says she did not oppose. In fact, he didn’t respond until you apparently intervened, and then his answer was wholly non-responsive, saying, in essence, that his advocacy was consistent with Judicial Council policy.

That’s the question: DID the Council, Chief, or ANYONE ELSE tell him to lobby against the changes to Government Code 68085, and did he in fact do so?

Why do you allow your staff to stonewall simple requests such as these?

Ms. Patel, we want truthful, candid, transparent answers to simple questions about Ms. Hershkowitz’s involvement in the drafting of the trailer bill in 2009 referenced in my email to her, and whether press reports were correct that the AOC lobbied against recent changes to Government Code Section 68085 and, if so, on whose authority? When will we get complete and truthful answers to these questions? These matters are critical to the Judicial Council’s consideration of the recommendations of the SEC.

Judge David Lampe
Alliance of California Judges

Ms. Patel did not respond. Instead Judge Lampe received this email on August 7:

Judge Lampe,
Because your request does not seek judicial administrative records as defined under rule 10.500 of the California Rules of Court, we have forwarded it to Hon. Harry Hull of the Judicial Council for consideration.
Chad Finke
Court Programs and Services Division

Justice Hull was given the request by AOC on August 7, 2012, and has simply ignored it. The stonewalling on this issue continues, as does the AOC practice of referring uncomfortable matters to Justice Hull, who insists on responding, if at all, by U.S. Mail only.

Recently, however, we came into possession of an email sent by Ms. Donna Hershkowitz that shed some additional light on this matter. We include it here for your review, and have attached to our email the original attachments to Ms. Hershkowitz’s email–the Department of Finance Language sent to AOC, and the language sent back by Ms. Hershkowitz, which she characterized as being only “necessary technical assistance” to make the Dept. of Finance language work. Please read both bills and see if you agree with this assessment.

We also include articles by The Recorder’s Cheryl Miller and yesterday’s article by Maria Dinzeo that delve into this topic.

Finally, it is unknown at this time exactly how much these top three AOC staff members will be paid for their services. We do anticipate receiving documents on Friday that will reveal how much it has cost for Ms. Patel and Mr. Soderland to stay in San Francisco hotels four days each week during their interim assignments rather than commuting from Sacramento like many others do.

As always, we will continue to update you as events warrant.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

From: Hershkowitz, Donna [mailto:Donna.Hershkowitz@jud.ca.gov]
Sent: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 11:31 AM
To: McGee, Fredericka; Curran, Shelley
Cc: Stephenshaw, Joe; Brown, Brian; Osterli, Matt; Cooper, Allan; Child, Curtis; Norman, Janus
On June 11, DOF sent out proposed language to eliminate SAL as well as language providing oversight of court budgets. Fredericka and Shelley, you weren’t on the distribution list, but I’m assuming Joe and Brian (who were) shared it with you. In case you haven’t yet seen it, I’m forwarding the language finance sent. The AOC made revisions to the language to provide necessary technical assistance to make the language work. I’m attaching that version as well

1. DOF version (JCW – Doc Link)

2. AOC revision (JCW – Doc Link)

Donna S. Hershkowitz

Assistant Director

Office of Governmental Affairs

Judicial Council of California – Administrative Office of the Courts

770 L Street, Suite 700

Sacramento, CA 95814

916-323-3121, Fax 916-323-4347, donna.hershkowitz@jud.ca.gov


“Serving the courts for the benefit of all Californians”


The Recorder’s Legal Pad Blog

August 27, 2012
Email on Controversial AOC Proposal Surfaces
[Cheryl Miller]
Three years ago a veritable judicial ruckus erupted when a draft piece of legislation that appeared to give the Judicial Council authority to appoint presiding judges and court executives was discovered in the Capitol.

The fracas over the never-introduced bill, authored by someone in the judiciary who is still unidentified, never really died down. In fact, it’s become a touchstone for judges who see the document as evidence of a power-hungry Administrative Office of the Courts hell-bent on centralization.

An email that surfaced last week may only add fuel to that fire. It’s a June 16, 2009 missive from Donna Hershkowitz, assistant director of the AOC’s Sacramento lobbying shop, passing along proposed Department of Finance judicial budget language and the AOC’s response to a half-dozen Capitol staffers. It’s the first document made public linking a specific AOC executive to the controversial draft.

“… I’m forwarding the language finance sent,“ Hershkowitz wrote. “The AOC made revisions to the language to provide necessary technical assistance to make the language work.”

The revisions she refers amend Government Code Section 77001 to read, “The Judicial Council shall adopt rules, policies, or directives, which shall provide, consistent with statute … means of selecting presiding judges, assistant presiding judges, executive officers or court administrators, clerks of court, and jury commissioners.”

Contacted last week, Hershkowitz and the AOC’s chief lobbyist, Curtis Child, declined to say who authorized the draft language. They also say, as they did three years ago, that no one in the judiciary endorsed the language, which they insist was drafted to fix structural and wording problems in the Department of Finance’s bill. (A Finance spokesman three years ago said his department never asked for the amendments). And even if the bill had been enacted, they say, the changes would have had “no substantive effect” on local courts’ ability to select their own presiding judges and other court officers.

“No one had any intent to put together any language secretly that would have allowed the Judicial Council to appoint presiding judges,” Child said.

Suspicious judges aren’t buying the explanations.

“The proposal speaks for itself,” said Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard, a director of the Alliance of California Judges. “It was a blatant and sneaky attempt to eliminate the statutory requirement for ‘a decentralized system of trial court management.‘”

The answers also did little to soothe Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lance Ito, who in an email called the revelation of the AOC’s draft language three years ago “the event that caused me to lose all faith in the AOC and the Judicial Council.”

Ito has been among the most vocal judges demanding to know who authorized the draft. The judge said he plans to continue pressing the issue.

“The [lobbyists’] refusal to identify the author begs the question, ‘What else are they hiding?’” Ito wrote. “I will be attending the CJA conference in Monterey in October for the specific purpose of asking the chief [justice] these questions in the annual Ask The Chief session that closes the conference.”


AOC Promotion Appalls Judges

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The promotion of the judiciary’s top lobbyist to a newly created executive position at the central bureaucracy for California’s courts has brought a sharp negative reaction from many of the state’s trial judges. On Wednesday, incoming director for the Administrative Office of the Courts Judge Steven Jahr unveiled his choices for the three executives who will be working directly under him, all three coming from the old guard of the AOC. Filling the chief of staff position is former regional director Jody Patel. Patel has been the interim AOC director for the past seven months until Jahr’s appointment in August. Her right hand Curt Soderlund will be the new chief administrative officer.

But the selection of lobbyist Curt Child as the AOC’s chief operating officer has “perplexed” the Alliance of California Judges, a group that has called for widespread reform of the bureaucracy hammered by judges, legislators and the State Auditor for mismanagement of statewide projects, mishandling taxpayer dollars and trying to influence council policy.

The judges are particularly critical of Child’s promotion, as his office is responsible for slipping an amendment into an under-the-radar trailer bill in the Legislature that would have seized authority from local courts over the selection of their presiding judges and court clerks. “The Alliance is not surprised by the promotion of interim director Patel and interim chief deputy director Soderlund as they would otherwise lose their jobs by the closure of the AOC’s regional offices,” said Judge Maryanne Gilliard of Sacramento, an Alliance director. “We are however, perplexed by the promotion of chief lobbyist Curt Child, in light of the fact that either himself or one of his underlings was responsible for the attempt in 2009 by way of an 11th hour trailer bill which would have stripped the local courts of their right to elect their presiding judges and assistant presiding judges.”

A document sent to the state’s Department of Finance also implicates lobbyist Donna Hershkowitz in the AOC’s alleged scheme to exert direct control over the local trial courts. In an email, Hershkowitz said the AOC revised language drafted by the finance department meant to provide oversight of court budgets. “The AOC made revisions to the language to provide necessary technical assistance to make the language work,” she wrote, attaching the new language deleting the trial court’s authority to select its own presiding judge and clerk.

An email between Gilliard and Teresa Calvert of the finance department confirms the Administrative Office of the Courts’ direct involvement.
Judge Jahr said his three selections will strengthen oversight of the bureaucracy as part of a major overhaul and restructuring of the office in response to a highly critical audit by a committee of judges earlier this year. A statement from the bureaucracy on the new hires notes that the executive office has gone from 14 positions to four.

“These new leadership positions within the AOC’s Executive Office will strengthen oversight of the agency’s diverse areas of responsibility,” said Jahr in a statement. The mystery of who was behind the attempted coup of the court has been a subject of inquiry and anger for years among trial judges. At a conference of the California Judges Association in Long Beach last year, questions were shouted out by judges in the audience at a discussion moderator calling for the identity of the orchestrator. The moderator and panelists refused to provide the name.