Parsing Words or Disregard for Legislative intent? You be the judge…

Posted on April 30, 2013

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A note from JCW: Yes folks, the “We’re all in this together” boondogglers and their codependent enablers are working a new angle to get you to part with your hard-earned tax dollars. Truth be told, they never stopped. As we see new formulas being circulated to redistribute finances between courts, you never saw the issue of the redistribution of finances between the old state court system and the cronies that remain firmly in control over the new state court system that includes the trial courts. After all, the JC /AOC deserves their cut off the top as well as their clawbacks in arrears.

Of course judges can’t be caught bitching too loud about flushing more cash down the CCMS rathole because a recent ethics rule passed by these bunch of yahoos in the crystal palace indicates that advocating keeping your courtrooms and courthouses open over other judicial branch non-core mission follies might just earn you a visit by the Commission on Judicial Performance and get you tossed off the bench.  So much for the first amendment. Then again there’s the control freak governance lockdown the Judicial Council themselves is imposing upon their various committees. I’m sure that will come with a plethora of non-disclosure agreements to ensure that shadow governance remains just that to ensure that committees are kept in lock-step with the central politburo in San Francisco.

Someday, someone in Sacramento will wake up on the right side of the bed and indicate that something stinks in Baghdad by the bay and that it smells like public corruption, the misappropriation of public funds and a routing of legislative intent. Until that time however the boondogglers and their codependent enablers will find or invent new ways of hijacking what little revenue is left going to the courts and ensuring that you’re in no position to complain, that is…. if you wish to keep your job.

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Letterhead Logo Smaller
April 29, 2013

Dear Members and Others,

Last week the Judicial Council met for a day and a half. Reporter Maria Dinzeo from the Courthouse News covered both days and we attach two articles that describe what happened. We will highlight one issue that should be of concern to every judge in this state.

As you know, last year the legislature enacted certain provisions to protect the local courts against continued raids by the Council on the Trial Court Trust Fund to fuel the failed CCMS project. The language signed by the Governor reads as follows:

Government Code 68085(o): The Judicial Council shall not expend any of these funds on the
system known as the Court Case Management System without consent from the Legislature,
except for the maintenance and operation of Court Case Management System Version 2 and Version 3.

The term “maintenance” is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: “The act of maintaining, the state of being maintained, support, the upkeep of property and equipment.” By way of an example, the dictionary cites the following: “the cost of routine car maintenance.” So it was truly bewildering that Judge James Herman, the chair of the Council’s Court Technology Committee, would state that expanding V3 to include family and dependency case types was merely “maintenance” and therefore within the law. As usual, no one on the Council questioned or challenged this interpretation.

We do. On page 55 of the 2007 Judicial Council publication entitled, “Innovations in the California Courts,” you will find a brief description of the various versions of CCMS. Of particular significance is the language concerning V3 and V4. V3 is listed as managing civil, small claims, probate and mental health, while V4 is identified as managing family law, juvenile dependency, and juvenile delinquency case types. This same definition of CCMS versions is also contained in at least one of the Judicial Council’s “fact sheets.”

Moreover, the Alliance has consulted with an IT expert who is most proficient with the CCMS product. This expert indicates that this is an expansion and not simple maintenance of the existing systems. The expert also informed the Alliance that the AOC is apparently using maintenance hours and money for this expansion, which means that other maintenance items will be deferred or not done at all as a result. In addition, the expert noted that this expansion will cause additional workload for those courts that have rejected the expansion because testing will need to be done of the entire system once the expansion is completed.

We are at a loss to explain why our court leadership continues to advance this disgraced and failed computer project in light of clear legislative action to the contrary. Perhaps that is why the San Mateo Court, also referenced in the first article, questioned Council member Judge Teri Jackson concerning democratizing the Judicial Council or, at a minimum, providing the Alliance with a non-voting position on the Council as the other judge’s association enjoys. Had an Alliance director been given the opportunity to serve in that non-voting capacity, questions would have been raised concerning the propriety of this CCMS expansion.

In the next few months the Governor and the Legislature will be making important decisions regarding the Judicial Branch budget. Unfortunately, against this backdrop and for whatever reasons, our leaders appear intent on jamming through an expansion of CCMS, notwithstanding a clear legislative directive and a previous vote of the Council to stop the project. It is clear that last year’s message to the branch was not heeded. That places all of the local courts in harm’s way. We encourage you to speak directly with your legislators and urge them to bypass the Council and the AOC and directly fund the local courts as they do the Sheriffs. Do not be intimidated by the “speak with one voice” mantra unless you agree with that “voice.” If you truly care about your local courts you will speak up now.

Directors,

Alliance of California Judges

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Courthouse News Service
4/26/2013

California Judicial Council Rearranges Itself

By MARIA DINZEO

(CN) – California’s Judicial Council on Thursday set up a system to give it more oversight of its vast network of advisory committees, task forces and working groups.

By unanimous vote, the council established new procedures for almost 50 groups.

“Under the leadership of the Chief Justice, The Judicial Council has been examining itself and its processes. We are doing this to improve the council’s accountability and transparency to the public, the branch, and the two other branches of government,” said Justice Douglas Miller, head of the council’s powerful Executive and Planning Committee.

Under the new standards, the smaller groups must report to bigger internal committees such as Executive and Planning and get approval before launching new projects or creating their own subgroups.

The structure of these groups is also under review. In a report to the council, Miller recommended merging some groups and dissolving others.

“Although we have accomplished a significant amount of work in the past few months, as always there seems to be more to do,” he said. Miller said his committee will work on specific guidelines to address the purpose of each group, their make-ups, duration, project timelines and how many Administrative Office of the Courts staffers they should have.

“We all agree this is an ongoing process and something that we will all have in the forefront of our minds,” said Justice Harry Hull, council member and chairman of the council’s Rules and Projects Committee, which will also oversee certain groups.

“Obviously, the work of the advisory committees and task forces is not static. So I think this is something that we can address as needed and continue to work towards the efficiencies and cost-cutting measures,” Hull said.

At the meeting, the council heard reports from members on recent court visits, as part of a liaison program started last year.

While some courts expressed concerns about budget cuts and delayed courthouse construction projects, Judge Teri Jackson of San Francisco reported that some San Mateo judges peppered her with questions about the makeup of the council, and why its members are not chosen democratically.

“One of the judges raised the issues about whether members could be voted on to the council. I explained that requires a constitutional amendment. More importantly, that is the constitutional authority of the chief justice,” Jackson said.

She said another judge asked how many council members belong to the Alliance of California Judges, a reformist judges group, and whether a formal Alliance seat could be established, as it is with the California Judges Association.

Jackson said she told the judge that members belong to dozens of organizations.

“Those were some of the issues raised by individual judges, not necessarily the reflection of all the other judges on the commission,” Jackson said.

In her report on a recent visit to Ventura, Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst relayed that court’s struggles with its case management system for family law and juvenile dependency cases.

“They noted that their system has crashed several times and they feel that there’s a risk of it crashing permanently,” she said.

Ventura is one of two courts that requested an expansion of the V3 edition of the Court Case Management System. The other one is San Diego.

Ashmann-Gerst said the court is considering buying an off-the-shelf product or working on a solution with other courts.

Last year, the council terminated the latest V4 project, but retained funding for maintenance of V3.

Judge James Herman of the council’s Court Technology Committee said the proposed expansion falls under maintenance.

“As council members will recall, in July 2012 the Legislature directed the branch to spend no more funds on V4 without the approval of the Legislature. None have been expended. However, the Legislature also directed the council to continue to maintain V-3,” Herman said.

The three other V3 courts, in Sacramento, Orange County and San Joaquin County, are wary about expanding V3.

“Those courts have expressed strong reservations about case type expansion, based on the view the effort might divert staffer resources from maintenance of V-3,” Herman said.

Herman said his committee hasn’t reached a decision yet, and is waiting for more information from the courts, expected next week.

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Courthouse News Service
4/26/2013
New Division of Funds Among California’s 58 Trial Courts

By MARIA DINZEO

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Judicial Council on Friday voted for a new method of allocating money among the local trial courts in California, marking the first time the funding formula has been changed in almost two decades.

The old funding model was frozen along historic lines, based on ratios established in 1994 that carried forward into 1997 legislation that centralized court funding and rule-making and started a big expansion of the central administrative office. After Friday’s vote, trial court funding will slowly begin taking into account the volume of cases handled by individual trial courts along with other factors.

But the slow pace with which the new funding formula will be put in place brought a strong challenge from the presiding judge of seriously underfunded San Joaquin County, who asked why relatively rich courts should be allowed to keep most of their oversized allotments while poor courts continue to suffer.

“For over 15 years the inequity of that system has been perpetuated,” said Presiding Judge David Warner in a public comment period at the start of the meeting. “It has rewarded some courts from a monetary standpoint and punished others.”

Presenting the new funding model to the council, Sacramento Presiding Judge Laurie Earl said the reform was necessary to convince the governor and legislators that the judges are serious about getting their financial house in order.

“We have to do something in fiscal year 2013-14, and this is a precursor to seeing any further reinvestment in the trial courts to make sure the other branches of government and the public understand our budget development process and understand where the money that the branch gets is going,” said Earl.

Presiding Judge Brian Walsh of Santa Clara County, a member of the sub-committee, put it more bluntly.

“The legislature said to us unless you come up with a new allocation method, we will not give you new funding,” said Walsh.

All of the 17 voting members present at the meeting voted in favor of the new model, including the Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

The new plan will be implemented in small increments over five years. In the budget for 2017-2018, half of a court’s funding will be based on the new model, and the other half will come from the historic model. Earl added that the most intense debate among the members of her funding methodology subcommittee centered on the transition schedule.

“This was by far the most boisterous discussion- about how and when we should implement the model,” Earl told the council.

While judges and administrators argue that all 58 trial courts in California are underfunded, some are considered to be severely so. Under the new model, courts used to getting a traditionally higher share of the overall budget will inevitably have to give up some of that money to those courts in worse fiscal shape.

The five-year schedule is intended to give the courts with better funding a comfortable amount of time to trim their operations. But in a public comment period before the vote, Presiding Judge David Warner from San Joaquin urged the council to move ahead quickly, saying swift implementation is “key to the survival of the San Joaquin Superior Court.”

“For over 15 years the inequity of that system has been perpetuated,” said Warner. “It has rewarded some courts from a monetary standpoint and punished others.”

San Joaquin is arguably the most underfunded court in the state, and Warner said he was “taken aback” by an argument he’d heard that courts like his wouldn’t know what to do with the extra money. He said, “We are under-resourced, not stupid.”

“We’ve been waiting 15 years for a fair process,” Warner added. “And now that we can see it and its within our grasp, if we phase in the system, it really won’t provide much benefit. We are told that the phase-in is necessary to allow the well-funded courts to adjust. There are other options. Our request is to fully implement the methodology to allow the courts taking cuts to apply for supplemental funding if they faced a deficit, as we were told to do. If that is acceptable for under-resourced courts why is it not acceptable for the better resourced courts?”

Earl said the committee considered abandoning historical funding and moving over to a workload based model immediately, but decided it would do too much damage to courts like Orange County, which would lose $41 million a year, or Alameda County, which would lose $26 million.

“If we were to implement this new model 100 percent on July 1 we would simply flip the the position of some courts who are underfunded with those who are woefully underfunded,” Earl said. “We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. The five-year implementation schedule will allow us to glide into parity.”

Fundamentally, the complex methodology is a two-part system, the first being a budget process that uses a court’s case filings to estimate its workload, and converts that data into its full-time equivalent staff need. That number is converted into dollars, and added to the court’s operating expenses and other unique factors.

That number is then added to the cost of the court’s special expenditures on programs like dependency counsel or security. After adding in some additional costs, one arrives at its total budget need.

The second part is the allocation process, based on the court’s percentage of share workload-driven need. The first year, only ten percent of each court’s allocation will be based on the new method, and 90 percent will be based on the historic model.

Earl noted that the method still needs tweaking.

For instance, 14 small, two-judge courts would receive a decrease in funding the first year.

“We knew that wasn’t right,” she said. “The amount of money that is involved is about $450,000 so we decided to keep them out of the model the first year,” Earl said. Adjustments for cost of labor across the 58 counties will also have to be made.

Presiding Judge Tom Borris of Orange County, a member of Earl’s subcommittee, said although his court would lose some money, it still endorses the new model.

“We have to lower the draw bridges, fill in the moats we’ve put around our counties and start thinking of moving on from something we have done since 1994,” said Boris. “Orange county believes in this formula. There is a lot that needs to be worked on and tweaked. But it is sound, it is fundamental, it is transparent.”

In addition to Orange, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Mendocino, San Diego, San Francisco and San Mateo will lose some funding. Earl said, “Their need, relatively speaking, is not as great as other courts.” Courts like Riverside, Kings County, San Luis Obispo, San Joaquin County, Santa Barbara and Imperial County will benefit.

Judge Walsh added, “What we bring before you is not perfect, but it’s better than good. In fact it is the best.”

He said the plan should not be considered a “Robin Hood” method under which funds are taken from wealthy courts and given to the poor.

“We can assure you there are no rich courts,” he said. “I think of it not as Robin Hood but a black and white movie from the Great Depression. Two people are out of luck and one slightly better off than the other reaches into his pocket and gives a quarter to the guy who is really hurting.”

“So it’s not Robin Hood,” Walsh concluded, “It’s, ‘He’s not heavy, he’s my brother,'” drawing laughter from around the council table