Alliance special treatment to continue ?… and a conflicting message from Jahr

Posted on October 10, 2012

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We’re guessing the ACJ isn’t privy to internal AOC Users – All email but if they were, they might be asking themselves…. what gives? Why is it that the Judicial Council and the AOC is doing one thing and saying another?

Our response to such a question would be: In light of the continued re-arranging of titanic’s deck chairs within the management ranks of the AOC, you were expecting something different? You were expecting change? Transparency? Accountability? That’s tantamount to asking all of the dons in a mafia crime family to step down permanently and voluntarily and give up a life of crime. It ain’t gonna happen voluntarily.

On a more positive note congratulations are in order for retired judge Charles “Chuck” Horan whose tireless work and steady, deliberate communications helped bring attention to some of the most serious issues the branch faces. Metropolitan News-Enterprise has named judge Horan one of their MetNews persons of the year for calling it like he saw it on CCMS.

Oct. 9, 2012

Oct. 9, 2012

Dear Members and Others,

The fallout continues over the disparate treatment by branch leaders of legitimate Alliance information requests. We attach articles on the subject from the Daily Journal and the Los Angeles based Metropolitan News.

While branch staff and leaders may complain that Alliance requests are voluminous and complex, you should know that obtaining from the AOC and Judicial Council what should be readily available information is akin to a breech birth.

For instance, the Alliance requested the name of the staff member who drafted the trailer bill which would have eliminated the right of local courts to select their presiding judges. That simple request was referred to council member Justice Harry Hull who simply declared that staff did nothing inappropriate. As judges we know when an answer is non-responsive and we recognize an opinion without a foundation. Our branch leaders continue to withhold this pertinent information while hoping the issue simply goes away.

Promises of a new spirit of transparency and accountability ring hollow when judges are denied the ability to determine whether scarce public resources are being spent prudently and whether subordinate staffers are being adequately supervised. The request eliciting information that might have answered these inquiries was neither burdensome nor “intimidating.”

The difficulties in obtaining basic information encountered by the Alliance of California Judges, the State Auditor and the Chief Justice’s SEC all bear witness to the fact that accountability and transparency cannot occur while an insular unelected group control the dissemination of public records and information. This behavior again underscores the need for democratization of the Judicial Council.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

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Daily Journal Synopsis
10/5/2012

Judges group and judicial branch fight over information
By Paul Jones
Frequently at odds, the Alliance of California Judges and state judicial branch leadership are now fighting over access to public records concerning branch business.
In a recent message to members, the Alliance accuses the Administrative Office of the Courts of stymieing its requests for information. AOC staff and judicial branch officials argue frequent and sometimes complex Alliance requests make it difficult to respond in a timely manner and have even forced them to change how the branch handles information inquiries.
{snip}
“Recently, things have changed rather drastically,” Horan wrote. “Suddenly, information requests that the AOC believes do not fall within [the Judicial Branch’s administrative records request rule] are immediately sent to Justice Harry Hull [a Judicial Council member] for his handling. This includes even the most mundane, noncontroversial requests.”
Horan continued, writing that Hull requires requests be resubmitted to him using postal mail, rather than email, and alleges the Council has attempted to stifle Alliance requests, noting a request in early September to Justice Douglas P. Miller to explain a motion made by Miller at a Council meeting was also referred to Hull by Miller, rather than answered directly.
{snip}
Alliance spokeswoman, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Maryanne G. Gilliard, said the Alliance’s requests, although numerous, are largely straightforward and factual, and therefore don’t have to be handled by Hull.
Regarding the volume of the Alliance’s requests, Gilliard said the AOC and the Judicial Council have long avoided a culture of transparency and accountability, noting that the substance of such Alliance criticisms were reflected in a report commissioned by Cantil-Sakauye last spring on branch administration and the Council’s oversight of it.
“[They] have never had their actions or decisions questioned and we understand they feel put upon and even a little stressed that judges are asking these questions,” Gilliard said, “but they are spending public dollars, and they need to be accountable.”
________________________________________________
Friday, October 5, 2012
Alliance Blasts AOC Treatment of Information Requests
 
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Alliance of California Judges yesterday criticized the way the Administrative Office of the Courts handles requests for information, saying the alliance is being discriminated against. 
Judicial branch leaders, the alliance said in an email blast, have “now confirmed” that the AOC, and the Judicial Council of California “have implemented a policy treating information requests from the Alliance differently from those of others.”
The email cited a Courthouse News Service story entitled “Battle of Information in Judiciary.” The article dealt with the complaint, previously made by the alliance, that instead of dealing promptly with requests for information, the AOC funnels them to Third District Court of Appeal Justice Harry Hull, who insists that requests be sent to him by “snail” mail, and in responding in the same manner.
Hull told Courthouse News that use of hand-carried mail is necessary to provide accountability.
“For certain requests, I have insisted that the requesting judge make the request to me by standard mail over the judge’s signature rather than by e-mail for purposes of accountability and to avoid a later claim that the judge did not make the request,” he wrote in an email.
“I base this in part on 40 years of practice in both criminal and civil litigation,” he added. “It ‘makes the record’ and leaves no room for claims of tampering with the message or false authorship which e-mail allows for. With his or her signature, the judge owns the letter and the message and cannot later claim to the contrary.”
The alliance yesterday questioned “whether [Hull’s] explanation makes sense in our digital world.”
The Courthouse News article also referenced emails the service received from retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan, an alliance founder, and Hull regarding the issue of response to information.
“It is obvious that Justice Hull has been personally assigned to me, and to the current directors of the Alliance of California Judges, regardless of the nature of the request, and regardless of who might actually have the information to answer it,” Horan wrote. “It appears to me and others that a high-level decision has been made to make life difficult for anyone affiliated with the Alliance of California Judges when it comes to these requests.”
Hull told Courthouse News that the Judicial Council is currently working on amending its method of handling records requests.
“This has become necessary because of the nature of certain requests that the AOC has been receiving over the past year or two,” Hull wrote. “That is, many requests from judges are for records, which requests are processed as any other request for records.”
“However, many requests the AOC has received lately are not for records but are for ‘explanations’ or simply ‘information,’ that is, not records requests at all.”
He said that between 300 and 400 hours of administrative office time had been spent on requests for information since June 1.
“We are trying to clarify the manner in which the AOC handles these requests and that it do so under the auspices of the Judicial Council,” Hull wrote.
The alliance said it has asked Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to ensure that alliance requests are placed on an equal footing with others.
“We are hopeful that the Chief Justice will end this unfair treatment of her judicial colleagues and immediately direct that council members and AOC staff respond to these legitimate requests for information without delay,” the alliance said in yesterday’s email.
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And now a few conflicting messages from Mr. Jahr that tell a different story….

From: Jahr, Steven
Sent: Tuesday, October 09, 2012 9:20 AM
To: AOC Users-All
Subject: Message to All Employees

AOC Colleagues:

I am honored to begin my service today as Administrative Director of the Courts and join with you in the essential work of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to improve the administration of justice in California.

Since the announcement of my appointment in August, the past two months have afforded me the opportunity to participate in the Judicial Council process to consider recommendations for a realignment of the AOC. I appreciate the thoughtful input and hard work of everyone involved in moving the organization forward in the direction set by the council. While not without challenges, I believe this period of transformation for the AOC will enable us to improve the services we provide to those we serve, as well as the daily environment in which we do our work.

In the coming weeks, I will be meeting with directors and staff in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Burbank to learn more about the programs and services you provide—the scope of which is impressive. Together with Jody, Curt Child, and Curt Soderlund in their roles as division chiefs, we will hold regular meetings with your directors who now comprise the renamed Management Council. Next week, we will meet with all directors, managers, and supervisors to discuss management priorities and expectations. Judge Kenneth So, vice-chair of the council’s Executive and Planning Committee also will participate in the program to share the council’s perspective. Information on our discussions will be shared with you following the meeting.

As for my office location, I expect to divide my time between AOC headquarters in San Francisco and the Sacramento office on a weekly basis. My presence in Sacramento will facilitate the manner in which I can most effectively address budget and legislative issues that are critical to the judicial branch at this juncture. The division chiefs also will divide their time between both offices.

It is important to me to establish open, well-organized communication on a number of different levels within the agency to ensure both that direction is clear and that feedback from those doing the work in each of the offices comes back to the Executive Office, so that we are providing the services necessary to the council and the courts.

Beyond our AOC world, with the goal of reinforcing the Chief’s message of transformation and open communication in the branch, this morning I sent a branchwide message underscoring the priority for me and for the AOC to effectively support the council, strengthen partnerships with the courts, and improve services to all customers and stakeholders. I believe that the changes the AOC has already made and will continue to make in the coming months will broaden confidence in the effectiveness and efficiency of the organization in fulfilling its statewide responsibilities. A copy of that message is attached.

As the staff agency to the Judicial Council, the Administrative Office of the Courts is an integral part of the judicial branch infrastructure. The AOC and its employees have made a remarkable contribution to California’s court system—establishing and implementing groundbreaking programs and delivering exceptional service in so many areas. I look forward to working with you to build on our successes, address current challenges, and break new ground in the future to benefit the courts and the public we serve.

Judge Steven Jahr

Administrative Director of the Courts

Steven Jahr

Administrative Director of the Courts

Judicial Council of California – Administrative Office of the Courts

455 Golden Gate Avenue

San Francisco, CA 94102-3688

415-865-4278, 916-643-7025, Fax 415-865-4244, steven.jahr@jud.ca.gov

www.courts.ca.gov

“Serving the courts for the benefit of all Californians”

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You’ll note the use of a Sacramento number. According to information supplied to us, Mr. Jahr does not reside in Shasta county, he resides in Sacramento proper and works out Sacramento primarily.

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October 9, 2012
Justices, Judges, Subordinate Judicial Officers, and Administrators of the California Courts:

It is my privilege to officially assume my duties as Administrative Director of the Courts for California. While I am no longer a member of the bench, I carry forward with me the values of that office and 22 years of experience in how our courts operate so that they can provide access to justice. I would like to express my commitment to supporting you in this critically important work in service to the public.

The orientation process in which I have engaged during the past two months before officially assuming my new role has afforded me the opportunity to speak with many individuals inside and outside of the judicial branch on the vital issue of how we ensure equal access to justice for the people of California. The vision of our Chief Justice, the strong leadership of the Judicial Council, the informed participation of justices, judges, and court administrators up and down the state, and the hard work and professionalism of court employees and employees of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has been both energizing and inspiring. It is with this sense of optimism and confidence that I begin my service.

The Chief Justice and the Judicial Council have given me a clear mandate. As Administrative Director of the Courts, my responsibility is to implement council policy to improve the statewide administration of justice and strengthen public trust and confidence in California’s justice system. For the judicial branch, the principal focus in this regard continues to be achieving budget stability to keep courts open and maintain access to justice in this difficult fiscal environment. At a different level, following a valuable assessment of the AOC initiated by the Chief Justice, an organizational realignment is under way, at the council’s direction, to improve services and operations and promote transparency and accountability.

As a branch of government we face significant challenges. Equally significant, however, is our demonstrated ability to meet these challenges head on, find a path forward, and build momentum around new opportunities to benefit the public we serve. I look forward to working with you as we move ahead.

Steven Jahr

Administrative Director of the Courts

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His vision of transparency and accountability apparently is to pick up the phone and call justice Hull when he needs some cover and would rather not respond to a public information inquiry.

That’s a fine way to begin your (lip) service mr. Jahr.