AOC in Woodshed over LB – Chief re-appoints three to Judicial Council – From the desk of JCW

Posted on March 18, 2013

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March 18, 2013

Dear Members and Others,

The attached articles deal with two subjects that are inexorably intertwined. The first by Courthouse News reporter, Maria Dinzeo, recounts the fact that the Chief Justice has reappointed three current members to the Judicial Council. The second article, by The Recorder’s Cheryl Miller, details a recent legislative hearing that focused on the money-sucking Long Beach Courthouse.

These two issues must be viewed in the larger context of a dysfunctional form of branch governance and the lack of a real system of checks and balances.

Reappointing the same judges/justices who have failed to appropriately oversee the bloated and entrenched bureaucracy is not a recipe for success. Rather, it is history repeating itself. We have not found a single instance when any of these three re-appointed members has voted against an AOC staff recommendation. They have fallen in lock-step with the other appointees who supported the failed CCMS project and repeatedly overlooked wasteful spending on court construction and maintenance. Recently each joined in rejecting the Chief Justice’s Strategic Evaluation Committee’s recommendation to end telecommuting for central office staff.

And that history brings us to the second article concerning the Long Beach Courthouse.

The Alliance has obtained an un-redacted copy of the building and maintenance contract that has left the judiciary on the hook for $2.3 billion over the next 35 years. We looked high and we looked low in an effort to learn who entered into this agreement where the construction/maintenance company bore zero risk. We can tell you that NO local court officials inked this deal. The bureaucrats from the AOC own this debacle from A to Z.

The Legislative Analyst correctly observed that the Long Beach project would go way over budget. That same Legislative Analyst had presciently warned that CCMS had not been properly vetted and was in danger of failing. Again the warnings have been ignored. And who suffers for these blunders? Certainly not those who entered into these contracts from the central office or the Council members who have repeatedly failed to rein them in. Instead the price is paid by every trial court in this state that is forced to layoff critically needed staff, close courtrooms and courthouses, make do with unsafe and overcrowded facilities, and shorten business hours for the public seeking redress.

Last week the Chief Justice addressed both houses of the Legislature. In her remarks she observed: “Structurally” the judicial branch was “reborn a mere 16 years ago.” Later in referring to the branch as “16 years young” she went on to say, “Like any adolescent it needs a check-in.” The Alliance would go one step further in this analogy: What adult in their right mind would give a 16-year-old carte blanche to spend over three billion dollars a year and not expect bad decision making and wasteful spending?

As we did with the CCMS fiasco, the Alliance is asking for the Legislature — which appropriated these monies the AOC and Judicial Council have so badly mismanaged — to direct respected State Auditor Elaine Howle to conduct an audit of the construction and maintenance programs overseen by the AOC. We caution the legislature not to be misled into thinking that the AOC-commissioned Pegasus report is comparable to a real independent audit, any more than were AOC-sponsored reports on CCMS. It is not. What is needed is an independent evaluation, just as was done with CCMS.

Finally, we thank State Senator Loni Hancock for shining the light on the Long Beach Court financing debacle by holding a public meeting. Senator Hancock’s question to AOC staff: “How did you let this happen?” — referencing the apparent belief by branch leaders that the State General Fund would pay for this behemoth — harkens eerily back to the days when our branch leaders and AOC staff attempted to shift responsibility for the concept of CCMS onto past Governors. Nonsense.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

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Courthouse News Service
3/15/2012

California Chief Reappoints Three to Council

By MARIA DINZEO

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye made a round of reappointments to the Judicial Council this week, the policy making body for the courts which she heads.

The reappointments are of a long-time member and two fairly recent appointees; Associate Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter, Justice Douglas Miller and Judge Emilie Elias of Los Angeles. Each will now sit on the council for at least three more years.

Both Baxter and Miller chair powerful internal committees, Baxter the council’s legislative policy committee and Miller its Executive and Planning Committee. Miller joined the council in 2010; Baxter in 1996, also the year he became head of the legislative committee. Elias sits on the Trial Court Funding Working Group, a committee of judges and government officials currently evaluating how the courts should be funded.

The reappointments by the chief justice come in the midst of a campaign by a reform group of judges who are pushing for the democratic election of council members. They argue that a council made up mostly of the chief’s appointees is unlikely to exercise judgment independent of the courts’ central bureaucracy that works under the chief.

All three of the council members who were reappointed are in policy hot seats.

Baxter chairs the Policy Liaison and Policy Committee that endorses proposals for legislation such as a recent trailer bill proposing a host of additional fees to the public, including a prohibitive fee to search public court records that was criticized in the state Senate this week.

Elias is a member of a group that is charged with evaluating how funding is distributed by the Judicial Council to individual trial courts, a subject of contention and concerns that some courts with close ties to the administrative office are favored in that allocation.

Miller chairs the committee that is supposed to put into effect a list of reforms of the Administrative Office of the Courts recommended by a committee of judges that spent a year looking into the bureaucracy criticized for waste of funds, mishandling of a defunct statewide computer project and a “culture of control” that left no say for the state’s independent trial judges. Miller has also opened some formerly closed council meetings to the public and started sending council judges on visits to local courts.

The campaign calling for a democratic shake-up of the council has been led by the Alliance of California Judges who say the council members do not represent the interests of the state’s trial judges and that elections would hold them accountable to their peers. For example, the council recently and unanimously endorsed telecommuting by the central bureaucrats, despite opposition from the head of the committee that made the reform recommendations, from the presiding judges committee, from the Alliance and from the California Judges Association.

Alliance judges have pointed to that decision and many before it in criticizing the council’s pattern of unanimous decisions that follow the recommendations from the administrative office on policies that affect the courts.

“Over the last 15 years, under this dysfunctional form of governance, we have witnessed the doubling in size of the central bureaucracy, the wasting of over $500 million dollars on a failed computer system, the granting of overly generous pension perks to the 30 top paid AOC bureaucrats, the allowance of ‘telecommuting privileges’ to high paid central office staff–including supervisors, and wasteful construction and maintenance projects, just to name a few,” Gilliard said.

“In that same time period we have never witnessed a single instance where these hand picked Council members have ever turned down an AOC staff recommendation,” she pointed out. “That fact alone should be a great cause of concern and a rallying cry for reform in light of the historical track record of mismanagement, bloat, and waste.”
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The Recorder

Capital Accounts: Long Beach Lands AOC in Woodshed

Cheryl Miller
2013-03-15 12:53:06 PM

SACRAMENTO — State Senator Loni Hancock is not usually given to verbal fireworks. But the typically mild-mannered Berkeley Democrat did not hide her anger with judicial leaders Thursday as she publicly quizzed the Administrative Office of the Courts about the Long Beach courthouse financing fiasco.

“My question is, to the AOC: How did you let this happen?” Hancock asked, her voice bubbling with exasperation.

The Senate budget subcommittee hearing provided the first real legislative grilling the AOC has received over the controversial project. And it probably marked the final nail in the coffin for judicial hopes that lawmakers will change their minds and cough up state money for the Long Beach building.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office recently concluded that the judicial branch may overpay by $160 million for the new courthouse because it relied on overly rosy projections when penciling out costs for the untested public-private financing deal.

“It turned out that the LAO’s projections were correct,” Hancock said at Thursday’s hearing.

Branch leaders assumed the state general fund would pick up the average $60 million annual payment for the building, even though a contract with the private construction consortium never specified what public entity would ultimately cover the tab. When lawmakers and the governor quashed those expectations last year, the Judicial Council was forced to shelve four other courthouse projects planned for Los Angeles, Fresno, Nevada and Sacramento counties to free up enough internal construction money for Long Beach.

“I frankly think that every [court with a] courthouse that is delayed because of this ought to raise some questions,” Hancock said.

AOC officials, however, wouldn’t concede that they made any mistakes with the Long Beach courthouse, which will ultimately cost $2.3 billion over the life of the contract.

“I’m not sure this was letting anything happen,” said Curtis Child, the AOC’s chief operating officer. “We’re still quite confident … this is a bargain for the state.”

Asked by Hancock if the branch had learned any lessons from the financial deal’s shortcomings, Child said it was too early to say, that an evaluation of the building’s quality after the life of the contract might be the best measure. Hancock pointedly noted that neither she nor Child is likely to be active in state government in 35 years.

“It’s not going to be particularly helpful,” she said.

Hancock instead said she’d push for language in this year’s budget that would stop state entities from using “unsubstantiated assumptions” when trying to justify public-private partnership, or “P3” deals.

“We really can’t be careless with one public dollar when we’re closing courthouses,” she said.

Any such statutory restrictions may not affect the judiciary, which apparently has decided to stick to traditional construction financing methods in the future.

“We don’t anticipate doing any more P3 projects,” Child told the subcommittee on Thursday.

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From the desk of JCW:

Things that make you go “hmmmmm…..”

The Southern Regional Office in Burbank is downsizing again. While they spent a load of cash building out an additional server room and the rest of the first floor (the secret floor courts weren’t privy to…) before they ended the lease and gave the space back. They’re now downsizing the 2nd floor, mostly occupied by the AOC. In the AOC’s infinite wisdom of bestowing honors upon the living that some might  consider villainous characters in this ongoing saga, they named the conference rooms in SRO “The Sheila Calabro Conference Center” upon her retirement to honor her. (No, I am not kidding!)

Part of this downsizing of SRO has to do with doing away with the part of the floor hosting the Sheila Calabro Conference Center…. (Ah….hahahaha… rent-a-dedication..) Shocked  and amazed that the AOC would do away with such a critical part of SRO, Sheila is alleged to have requested the following……

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From: B-M M.
Sent: Friday, March 01, 2013
Subject: Sheila Calabro Conference Center Plaque

Good Morning,

When Sheila heard the conference center was being demolished, she said she wanted the items signifying the Sheila Calabro Conference Center. I was able to take down her picture and resolution, but not the plaque and I noticed when I walked in this morning that the plaque is gone.  If you have it can you please bring it to my office. Thanks so much.

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Now we don’t know if the rumor is true that someone has video of this plaque being tossed upon a beach bonfire or the other rumor is true about a video of it laying across the metro tracks or even the third rumor is true that it was rushed to claim by Ms. Calabro but if you could update the rumor mill and get on the same page, it might be helpful in telling our readers what really happened to the plaque. 

And if there really is video – don’t tell us about it, let us post it!

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More of that “hmmmmm….”

He’s the presiding judge of Yolo county. He’s a judicial council member. He sits on the litigation management committee for the judicial council – the judges and justices who sit in an effort to manage the litigation against the branch like the recent appeal of the Emily Gallup case. He has awards for himself posted on his website before they’re presented…. 

Presiding Judge Dave Rosenberg Robocall May 2012 apparently to every resident in Yolo County.

Public Utilities Code that applies to this call

PUC 2873.  Automatic dialing-announcing devices may be used to place calls over telephone lines only pursuant to a prior agreement between the persons involved, whereby the person called has agreed that he or she consents to receive such calls from the person calling, or as specified in Section 2874.

PUC 2874.  (a) Whenever telephone calls are placed through the use of an automatic dialing-announcing device, the device may be operated only after an unrecorded, natural voice announcement has been made to theperson called by the person calling. The announcement shall do all of the following:
(1) State the nature of the call and the name, address, and telephone number of the business or organization being represented, if any.
(2) Inquire as to whether the person called consents to hear the prerecorded message of the person calling.
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Canon of Judicial Ethics that applies to this call

CANON 5
A JUDGE OR JUDICIAL CANDIDATE* SHALL REFRAIN FROM INAPPROPRIATE POLITICAL ACTIVITY

Judges are entitled to entertain their personal views on political questions. They are not required to surrender their rights or opinions as citizens. They shall, however, avoid political activity that may create the appearance of political bias or impropriety. Judicial independence and impartiality should dictate the conduct of judges and candidates* for judicial office.

Now if the CJP wasn’t Big Dave’s bitch, do you think they might have something to say about content in light of the coincidence that Clint Parish being prosecuted in State Bar Court for said mailer? What are the odds that sitting on the all-powerful litigation management committee someone might be actually managing litigation and sending a chilling message to attorneys of “don’t take us on – or risk disbarment….”