The End of the Line for Reform

Posted on March 6, 2013


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March 6, 2013

Dear Members and Others,

The fallout continues in the wake of the Judicial Council’s decision to repudiate the recommendation of the Chief Justice’s Strategic Evaluation Committee that called for the demise of the AOC’s generous telecommuting policy. We attach an opinion piece from Courthouse News editor Bill Girdner commenting on this extraordinary, though not altogether unexpected, development.

Judge Charles Wachob, Chair of the committee that generated the report that the Chief Justice declared would be “the Bible” for reform at the AOC, made this statement to the Council before the vote was taken: “[T]o adopt a regular one day a week or so many days per month based on no particular study other than arbitrary selection on an unfocused explanation that telecommuting will help somehow the organization, I’m sorry I don’t buy that. If the goal of the AOC is to advance transparency, the board should terminate the policy with the exception of medical leave and the occasional ad hoc situation.”

Alliance Director Judge Maryanne Gilliard had this to say about the Council’s unanimous decision: “When you see companies like Yahoo and Google saying, ‘Come to work,’ how is it you have a government bureaucracy with a track record of misspending public dollars and violating the public’s trust continuing to allow telecommuting?”

No doubt many of you are wondering the same thing when, only a couple of months ago, the Council ostensibly “adopted” all of the recommendations of the SEC, a group comprised of members personally selected by the Chief Justice herself. That is a fair question the press is now asking. One might also assume that the Legislature, the Governor and the Department of Finance are likewise perplexed by this obvious flip-flop. Already the Chief Justice, on her own, has rejected out of hand the SEC’s recommendation to move the central planners to Sacramento because of the concern it would be “too disruptive” for those who work in the opulent and costly headquarters in San Francisco.

The Alliance anticipated that the SEC recommendations would die a certain and slow death. We urge you to remain vigilant as our courageous colleagues on the SEC watch their work emasculated by a bureaucracy and handpicked judicial leaders that have no intention of changing, despite their words to the contrary. We will continue to advocate tirelessly on your behalf for a more democratic system of judicial governance.


Alliance of California Judges


End of the Line


The speakers represented a full array of constituencies among California’s judges.

The head of the longstanding California Judges Association was opposed. Leaders of the newer Alliance of California Judges were opposed.

The head of the presiding judges committee, representing judges at the head of their courthouses throughout the 58 counties, was opposed. The head of a committee of judges that spent a year investigating the central bureaucracy of California’s courts was opposed.

They all took the same position. There were no little nuances. They spoke with one voice.

They said the highly paid employees at the Administrative Office of the Courts must show up for work at the office. The bureaucrats should work in the bureau.

So, with all that firepower, with that unified voice from leaders of groups that, taken together, represent pretty much every trial judge in the state, how far did they get. How persuasive were they in opposing the central office administrators who wanted to hang on to their telecommuting privilege, who wanted to keep working from home one day a week.

The judges won not a single vote. Not one.

The Judicial Council, where all the judges on the council are appointed by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, voted unanimously in favor of allowing the administrators to continue telecommuting.

Bureaucrats – 17, Judges – 0.

At an enrobing ceremony last month in San Diego, I talked with a trial lawyer and mentioned the telecommuting issue. He knew immediately what I was talking about.

“Yeah, I would like to work from Switzerland,” was his comment.

Telecommuting had been abused by the bureaucrats. It was pervasive, with 40% of one department telecommuting, and indeed, with one staff member working from Switzerland.

The revelation of how the privilege had been indulged was just one in a series of black eyes for Administrative Office of the Courts.

Just as the new chief justice was coming into office, the office staff gave themselves a retroactive 3-5% pay hike when court budgets were already under stress. They had also set up a taxpayer-supported 22% pension contribution with no employee match for the top bureaucrats, a scheme not allowed under federal law.

The top-loaded pension was stopped only under pressure from the Legislature.
More fundamentally, the bureaucracy’s effort to take over the fiscal and policy affairs of the trial courts had brought anger and opposition from a great number of trial judges. That pressure resulted in the year-long investigation by the judges’ Strategic Evaluation Committee that resulted in a long list of recommended reforms.

Lest there was any doubt that the reforms were supported by the state’s judges, a whopping 90 percent of California judges answering an online poll said they favored the reform committee’s proposals that included radically downsizing the central bureaucracy and taking away its role in setting policy.

At the Judicial Council last week, the head of that reform committee, Judge Charles Wachob, answered the administrators’ argument that telecommuting was necessary for employee retention, or, in translation, we might quit.

“Right now in this market,” said Wachob, “I think that the retention of employees is not difficult. I’m sure there are a lot of laid off trial court employees who would love to apply for jobs here.”

Another argument in favor of telecommuting came from a council member who said, “We can’t get involved in the day-to-day operation of AOC. The next argument would be, should AOC buy blue pens or black pens?”

Leading judges whose constituencies covered just about every judge in the state were lined up on one side making strong arguments. Administrators and their backers were lined up on the other side making weak arguments.

And in the end, it was no contest.

It was as though the judges were playing out of their league and never had a chance.

From the vantage point of time and distance, it looked to me like the reform train came to a halt right there in that meeting.