(JCW) A recent communique from the Alliance of California Judges
You have probably received an e-mail survey from the recently created Commission on the Future of California’s Court System asking your opinion about how best to improve the branch. You may be tempted to ignore this survey; after all, over the last four years, you’ve been asked to take a survey by the CJA, another one by the Chief Justice, and yet another one by the Strategic Evaluation Committee.
We urge you to respond to the survey, even though we have doubts about the “Futures Commission” that sent it out. Over the next two years, this 21-member commission is supposed to “take a fresh look at legal and structural challenges to long-term efficiency and stability for the judicial branch and develop practical, achievable recommendations that may be implemented by the Judicial Council, the Legislature, or the Governor.”
If our branch leaders are really interested in improving long-term efficiency for the judicial branch, we have some practical, achievable recommendations: cut back the bureaucracy in size and scope, and allow the judges of this state to elect the members of the Judicial Council that purports to guide them. And stop appointing committees that are geographically unbalanced and light on experienced trial court judges.
We know many of the members of this new commission, and we respect them. But we fail to see the need for another strategic planning committee, let alone one that won’t produce a report until deep into 2016, when at least three other committees are supposed to be doing much the same thing. For starters, there’s the Executive and Planning Committee, which “develops the council’s long-range strategic plan for the judicial branch.” Then there’s the Advisory Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency for the Judicial Branch, which “makes recommendations to the council on practices that will promote efficiency or improve financial accountability.” The Council also meets regularly behind closed doors (and with an unpublicized agenda) to come up with the six-year branchwide strategic plan and the three-year operational plan. And, of course, the Chief created the Strategic Evaluation Committee in 2011 to conduct an in-depth review of the former AOC.
The appointment of yet another committee, no matter how distinguished its membership, comes across as a feeble response to the recent hammering that our branch suffered in the last budget cycle. The Governor and the Legislature have told us repeatedly that our branch needs reform, and they brought the point home forcefully with a budget that doesn’t come close to meeting our needs. Our branch leaders have responded by changing the name of the bureaucracy and appointing yet another committee. We doubt the other branches of government will be impressed.
In forming this commission, our branch leaders did not reach out to our 500-member organization, which has led the call for branch reform since 2009. So we reached out to them and asked to be included on the commission. Our offer has not been accepted. But as the commission is now asking for our thoughts, we offer these preliminary ones:
Over the past two decades, the Judicial Council, once a relatively quiet body that concerned itself primarily with drafting forms and recommending “best practices,” morphed into a powerful, overlarded, unelected statewide management board with control over trial court budgets, courthouse construction, and judicial education. The Council wasn’t designed to serve these functions, and it has not done them well. We suggest as the starting point for the commission’s deliberations the language of California Constitution, Article VI, section 6, defining the Council’s role as a policy-recommending body, not a policy-making one, and Government Code, § 77001, which mandates a “decentralized system of trial court management.”
Let’s start there. We’re judges. Let’s just follow the law.
Very Truly Yours,
Directors, Alliance of California Judges
Added: A Link to the survey.