Chief Justice unveils new legislative strategy

Posted on October 19, 2012



October 18, 2012

Dear Members and Others,

We attach an article by reporter Cheryl Miller of The Recorder which highlights remarks the Chief Justice made last weekend. You will see from the article a number of direct quotes from the Chief Justice. We urge you to carefully read this article, and then read it again.

Please share the article with your colleagues. If you know your State Senator or State Assembly Member, we also encourage you to forward the article to that elected official with a personal note from you.

We will comment on only one matter as the rest speaks for itself.

The Chief Justice, in an apparent reference to the Alliance, indicates that she does not understand why our message is different from that of her handpicked Judicial Council. She also indicates that she is unaware of or confused as to our message.

Please know that before the Chief Justice was sworn in, members of the Alliance board met with her and explained our support for the Trial Court Bill of Rights — the major substance of which was signed into law as a part of last year’s budget bill. In addition, the Alliance has sent a number of letters to the Chief Justice advocating for democratization of the Judicial Council, and our organization is regularly quoted in the press as to that issue. We have also communicated with her and her Council urging the cessation of CCMS, pay raises for AOC staff and the embarrassing pension perk given to the 30 highest paid central office staff. Board members regularly appear and provide comment at Council meetings. In short, the Alliance message has been consistent and clearly communicated to our branch leaders.

Finally, rest assured that the Alliance will continue to have a presence at the Capitol. We will not cease our advocacy for a democratically elected Council. And we will continue to identify wasteful spending of public dollars by branch leadership and its bureaucracy. Access to justice is meaningless when local courts are closed and business is unable to be conducted because valued court employees have lost their jobs.

Alliance of California Judges

The Recorder

Capital Accounts: Chief Justice Seeks to Soothe an Anxious Bench

Cheryl Miller

2012-10-17 05:12:25 PM

The cigar smoke has finally cleared and California’s jurists have returned to their benches after last weekend’s California Judges Association gathering in Monterey. Left wafting in the meeting’s aftermath, however, was a lot of anxiety about next year’s state budget and the judicial branch’s standing with the governor and Legislature.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye addressed those concerns in a far-reaching — well, not far-reaching enough for one judge, but more on that later — Q&A with CJA members on Sunday. Here are some excerpts:

On the need for judges to “speak with one voice” on the budget:

“I felt in the first year-and-a-half that before I even got to the message about what the branch needed in terms of a budget, I had to explain, no, I wasn’t this, no, I wasn’t that, no that I don’t disagree with my judges, no I can’t tell you why we’re here and they’re here differently from me, no I can’t tell you why their message is different from Judicial Council’s. By the way, what is their message?

Before I could even get to the point of saying trial courts need their fund balances because we are dynamic and we plan and we’ve been in three years of cuts before I came along. So you need to give us our fund balances so that we can have the flexibility to respond. But I didn’t even really get to that argument because the buzzer goes off and the next interest group is there ready to advocate their position and what they want is part of our budget.”

On her relationship with the governor:

“He calls on the phone himself. And he calls at odd hours. He calls at home. But that’s part of his style, I believe. And I think he’s on 24/7. So he doesn’t think that today is Christmas or Sunday or whatever day of the week it may be. And I appreciate that about him because his informality makes me feel comfortable with calling him.”

On her relationship with the Legislature:

“I probably have a better relationship with [Senate President Pro Tem] Darrell Steinberg because he’s a neighbor and a former classmate. And he texts, and so we text back and forth and have coffee and meet off radar and discuss where things are. And you know, [legislative leaders] are honest. They don’t say yes. They say I don’t know. They say it doesn’t look good, this is what the problem is. But when they see something percolating, they also call and say, this is coming, you may want to weigh in ….”

On whether strained relationships with the Legislature made this year’s budget cuts worse:

“This is a sign of strain in California. Period …. Are we cut deeper? I say yes, we are cut deeper. We’re cut deeper because we need to communicate and speak with one voice that we are a branch that serves all Californians. The people they provide laws for are the same people we provide justice for. That’s a message that we haven’t really been able to get out there because we have so many other diversions that we’re dealing with.”

On recent pension legislation that left current judges untouched but will require higher contributions from new judges:

“So I guess the silver lining is that the governor’s office knows that [JRSII] needs reform because he said to me, ‘Well why would you be afraid of pension reform when we could do some good things with JRSII?’ And I said it’s not been my experience to have good things happen in the Legislature. I mean, it was just a natural reaction. There was no diplomatic way to say it otherwise.

And so what do I think about [the pension system for new judges]? I think I worry greatly that it will undermine the candidate pool to the bench. And I am a little bit appalled that the governor’s office, who largely appoints most judges, doesn’t see that. But I also think there was a little bit of political flavor to this pension reform that happened over night that was across the board, and I frankly, sitting at the Supreme Court, would not be surprised if litigation comes our way on this package of change.”

On the wave of new legislators expected after the Nov. 6 election:

“We want to meet those 40 legislators as soon as possible. We want a reception of some sort. And so I’m not sure honestly whether the Judicial Council or CJA can do it, so I’ve kind of whispered in the ears of a few attorney organizations that, gee, wouldn’t it be nice if we paid for a reception and invited the Judicial Council and all the judges to be there ….

So we want to jump in in December or January, as soon as they’re elected, we want to make ourselves known. I said to the attorneys, you know there’s nothing like getting a person to a meeting like having a swag bag. You talk to teenagers, if there’s a swag bag with goodies in it, people will come. You know, so I’m not above any kind of manipulation,” she said jokingly.

The questions answered by the chief justice were screened by CJA leaders. They did not include one from Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lance Ito, submitted in advance, about a 2009 draft piece of legislation that appeared aimed at giving the Judicial Council power to select trial court presiding judges and executive officers. Ito displayed an email he had submitted in advance of the Q-and-A session, asking the chief justice who authorized the bill that was never introduced. No branch leader has ever publicly named names.

Ito, sporting a white shirt emblazoned with an Alliance of California Judges logo, said before Cantil-Sakauye took the stage that he didn’t expect his question would get an answer that day either. It didn’t. “Oh well,” he said

JCW : At least there is a group of judges in this state interested in delivering justice as opposed to the group of judges pining the legislature for a blank check for the AOC.