Centralized Funding & Control – The Real “Phantom Menace”

Posted on April 14, 2014

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The Chief Justice made a startling statement in a recent television interview:

General funds support for the third branch of government has failed. It’s absolutely a skeleton of what it used to be.”

Her remarks stand in stark contrast with those of her predecessor in a speech he gave back in 2009:

“It was anticipated that the switch from county funding to state funding of California’s judicial system would raise the level of services provided across the state to an effective baseline, provide courts with a stable and predictable level of funding, and allow the judicial system to engage in productive planning for the challenges ahead. Those expectations have been met.”

The current chief’s recent statement, along with her admission that backing CCMS was a mistake, constitute a sweeping acknowledgement of what we in the trial courts know to be true.  Chief Justice George’s vision of a unified judicial branch—directed by a central bureaucracy, bound together by a massive computer network, housed in dozens of gleaming new courthouses, acting in unison with the Chief Justice at its head—has proven to be a mirage.  Centralized administration didn’t lead to stable funding.  Centralized administration didn’t improve the level of service we provide.  Centralized administration didn’t bring us more prestige.  And centralized administration certainly didn’t bring us a working case management system.

The issue is not simply the failure of the centralized model of state funding for the trial courts, but also the failure of the Council to adequately carry out its duty of oversight– the $500 million waste on CCMS being the most prominent example.  The primary problem with centralized funding is that it has empowered a centralized state court bureaucracy, to the great and lasting detriment to the courts of this state.

In that same interview, the current Chief Justice said, “We did not mismanage ourselves into this position.”  But that’s precisely what our branch administrators did.

Very truly yours,

Directors, Alliance of California Judges