Alliance Members Identify Priorities for Incoming Administrative Director

Posted on October 3, 2014

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We asked our membership to suggest priorities for the incoming Administrative Director of the Courts, Martin Hoshino. Thank you to our members who took the time to lay out priorities for the judicial branch. Here we will attempt to summarize those responses, which we plan to share with Mr. Hoshino when we meet with him next month.

By far the most common theme of our members’ responses focused on limiting and redefining the role of the Judicial Council and its staff, formerly known as the Administrative Office of the Courts. Nearly every judge who weighed in stressed this as a primary concern. Some of the specific comments we received on this topic include:

  • “Limit the function, power and authority of Judicial Council staff.”
  • “Reaffirm that judges are Constitutional officers, not employees of court administration. The Judicial Council and its staff should serve and aid the courts, not dictate policy.”
  • “The AOC, or whatever they are now called, needs to remember that they work for the judges, not the other way around. How ridiculous is it that I would need to make a public records request of an agency that works on my behalf?”
  • “Remove from Judicial Council thought, and page one of its website, the idea that ‘Judicial Council staff implements the Council’s policies’ – they exist to serve the courts and the courts implement policy.”
  • “Increase the authority of judges over allocation of court funds and what they can be spent on.”
  • “Limit the mission of the Judicial Council staff to serving the courts and stop trying to manage them.”

In addition to these comments seeking to redefine and limit the role of the Judicial Council and its staff, perhaps an equally common theme among our members focused on a related topic: the critical need to significantly cut the Judicial Council budget and the operations of its staff, so that saved monies can be redirected to trial court operations. This suggestion dovetailed with the direction to cooperate fully with the ongoing audit of the AOC to help identify operations that can be eliminated or reduced to free up funds for the courts, and included comments like:

  • “Dramatically cut the AOC budget and redirect saved money to the trial courts.”
  • “Audit each position at the AOC, eliminate nonessential positions so those funds can be used to hire court staff.”
  • “Immediately reduce Judicial Council expenditures by a minimum of 50% — this will require a prompt elimination of all non-critical functions.”
  • “Deeply cut the staff of the AOC, especially in the CJER, Information Technology and Office of Governmental Affairs divisions.”
  • “Reduce the amount spent on outside counsel – why does a staff of over 100 rely so heavily on an army of law firms?”
  • “Scrap any idea of a statewide data management system for the courts – let local courts decide what they need and what systems are best suited to those needs.”
  • “Audit the court construction program to address whether projects are poorly managed, too opulent, built in locations where the need is not the greatest and on sites that are inconvenient, unsafe and financially unsound.”
  • “Move the Judicial Council/AOC headquarters from the expensive facilities in San Francisco to a more austere and functional location in Sacramento.”

Another related topic that was stressed by nearly all respondents was the subject of Judicial Council governance. Comments here focused on the need to democratize the Council selection process, consider the views of all judges before taking action, and make the Council’s decision making process more transparent:

  • “I would like to see the branch be able to elect leaders to the Judicial Council. Not all of them, but some of them. I would like to see the council soliciting our opinions on major issues before they act.”
  • “Eliminate the Judicial Council nomination/selection system and replace it with a system the will ensure a balanced, elected and representative council of judges.”
  • “Encourage the Chief Justice to open the appointed trial court judge positions on the Judicial Council to a vote of the trial court judges of the state.”
  • “Bring true transparency to the Council and its various committees, subcommittees and task forces – bring in new people who have a different view on issues and who will look critically at what is being proposed.”
  • “Eliminate closed meetings, except in very limited situations (personnel issues, litigation management, etc.).”
  • “His highest priority should always be to provide meaningful opportunities for judges to be informed and heard on matters concerning the judiciary, regardless of whether those views are in accord with those of the Council and its bureaucracy.”

Of course, restoring funding to the courts was a high priority among many of our judges. Some specifically wrote that funding should be earmarked for hiring staff, improving court technology, and reopening courtrooms that have been closed due to strained budgets. Others specifically noted that additional funding is needed to repair, maintain and construct court facilities, with an eye toward functionality and safety.

Finally, several judges wrote to express concern about judges’ pay and retirement benefits; they had particular concern that the current system would discourage talented attorneys from seeking election or appointment to the bench. This was expressed as a real deterrent for younger attorneys who, under the current system, may have to contribute 15% of their pay into the system for 30 years or more to obtain a defined benefit that may be less than what they would receive if they remained in their current position in public employment.

We hope we have accurately summarized your suggested priorities for Director Hoshino. Should you feel we omitted something of importance, or that we have highlighted a concern that should not be a priority, please respond promptly to this message so we may have that input before we meet with him early next month. It is our desire to represent the interests of our members, so we look forward to any further input you may choose to offer on this or any other subject of importance to the courts.
Directors, Alliance of California Judges

 

Edited by JCW: The highlighted item was emphasized by us, not the Alliance of California Judges. The reason this item was highlighted by us is because the Judicial Council uses the construction list as a carrot and stick. All of the Appellate courts were built or remodeled first. They were followed by a courthouse that was so far down the list it should have never been built. ( Aronson Justice Center in Pittsburgh, California) as an internal political deal. The court construction list has been re-ordered several times to benefit the Judicial Council favored, while penalizing the less favored.

This was not the intent of the construction program.