Does the rules committee follow the rules?

Posted on July 23, 2014

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Last Thursday, the Judicial Council’s Rules and Projects Committee (RUPRO) met to take up the issue of the renaming of the Administrative Office of the Courts, as requested by the Chief Justice.  The RUPRO meeting, conducted telephonically, was slated to run an hour.  It lasted only 15 minutes. As expected, the committee voted unanimously to forward a set of proposed changes to the Rules of Court—presumably written by AOC staff—for approval by the Judicial Council at its next meeting.  When committee members tried to raise concerns about ambiguous language, the committee chair assured them that any problems would be fixed in the future, and that they were there simply to ratify a decision already made by the Council.

We have questions about the purpose of this meeting and how it was conducted.

First, why the rush to change the AOC’s name?  Why must every trace of the AOC, which existed for over 50 years, be erased within 30 days? If, as the document approved by RUPRO claims, “in retiring the name no substantive legal change has occurred,” why must it be retired so quickly?  While the Alliance has long insisted that the AOC be reined in and cut back, we never sought to drive it into witness protection.

We note that this rebranding of an 800-member bureaucracy is taking place in the middle of an audit.  It might make more sense to wait until after a proper assessment has been conducted and responsibility assigned for any shortcomings before changing all the names on the signage and the labels on the organizational charts.

Second, where’s the public comment period?  Under Rule 10.22, RUPRO is supposed to circulate a proposed rule change for public comment unless “the proposal presents a nonsubstantive technical change or correction or a minor substantive change that is unlikely to create controversy.”

This name change is not a “nonsubstantive technical change,” and we deserve a chance to reflect on it and talk about it.  The name change represents an acknowledgment that the Judicial Council never had the authority to create a giant bureaucracy to begin with.  It also represents a draw on the budget.  At a time when many trial courts are facing yet another round of layoffs and cutbacks, we should find out just how much it’s going to cost to change AOC signs and letterhead and print out new business cards.

Third, isn’t RUPRO supposed to suggest rule changes for the Judicial Council’s approval, rather than the other way around?  The committee chair said repeatedly that the Judicial Council had already approved the changes, and that RUPRO merely had to ratify them.  But a review of the Chief Justice’s opening remarks at the last Judicial Council meeting reveals that the Council approved nothing regarding the name change. The Council members called for a rule change; they didn’t draft one themselves.  RUPRO is where amendments to the rules are supposed to get suggested, disagreements get voiced, pros and cons get weighed—not where rules get ratified out the gate and kicked upstairs.

This fifteen-minute meeting illustrates everything that’s wrong with the way that the Judicial Council and its committees operate.  The committee merely rubber-stamped the recommendations of AOC staffers, with little meaningful discussion, let alone dissent.  In its haste to do the bidding of the Chief Justice, the committee is ignoring its own public comment rules.  And the timing of all this choreographed activity is curious, to say the least.

Very Truly Yours,

Directors, Alliance of California Judges