For those of us who have observed the behaviors of the AOC and their handlers at the Judicial Council for the past five years, we’ve all observed stunning reports and audits being issued which should have caused heads to roll. Yet in that entire five year period, the only people who have ever been held accountable for anything are those people who had the audacity to bring issues to the attention of the council and the leadership.
In all of that time, not a single person has been terminated for mismanagement. As various independent audits and independent reports have shown, hundreds of millions of dollars in scarce public funds have been wasted. When these issues are brought to the attention of the council, the standard canned response has always been to delay change, to deny there is any problem and to diminish the results of the findings.
The end result is and has consistently been that absolutely nothing changes.
The latest report by the California State Auditor is no exception to the standard canned response of delay, deny and diminish with a virtual accusation that the State Auditor, much like other evaluators before her, don’t have a clue as to what they’re talking about. When a problem is observed, the standard canned response has been to form a committee and give them an unusually long period of time to look into it. Unusual I say because if it were a private for-profit corporation where independent auditors reached similar conclusions, there would be a shareholder revolt. The board of directors would be under fire and if the company ever expected to be able to raise another penny, the management would need to be replaced.
Our chief justice refers to these significant delay tactics as “deliberation: the hallmark of justice”. But what would happen if a bunch of justices in an appellate court deliberated a case for eighteen months and took another eighteen months to communicate their ruling? According to the law, they shouldn’t be paid because they did not clear the case from their docket in the allotted amount of time.
We’ve exceeded five years of delays. During that time, precious little has changed at the judicial council except significantly more delays, more denial and more diminishing. During this entire time, what we term TOSCS or the old state court system which includes the appellate courts, the supreme court, the AOC and the judicial council have all experienced virtually zero impact to their operations while NSCS, or the new state court system, which represents the trial courts has been decimated with over 50 courthouse closures and over 200 courtrooms shuttered and thousands of employee layoffs.
When the budget axe falls, it seemingly falls in only one direction.
For over four years, JCW has asked that the other branches of government hold TOSCS accountable by redirecting the funding away from them and sending that funding directly to the trial courts. In the latest budget proposal released by the governor, that does not happen and has not happened in all of that time when audit after report after audit tell us that public funds to the tune of well over a billion dollars have been squandered by the judicial council and their administrative offices.
The latest report indicates the finance department of the AOC actually approved reimbursements that well exceed even their own guidelines.These approvals severely undermine the credibility of the finance director who clearly knew what he was doing was wrong but he did it anyways. And I’m confident that the AOC rank and file were not the ones being reimbursed for forty dollar lunches because we hear from our little birds that their limits for reimbursement are firmly in place and scrutinized to death as if finance were an insurance company denying a claim. Yet the management, who receives unusual perks like state cars to commute to and from work in, employer paid employee pension benefits and reimbursed parking in one of the most expensive cities to park in on planet earth are also submitting outlandish reimbursement claims that are being paid.
Since the council obviously has no intention to do anything but delay, deny and diminish, year after year it has fallen upon the other two branches of government to take action. Yet when action in the form of checks and balances has been raised, they’ve perpetually been amended or discarded with the predictable result that nothing has changed. As a result, waste and abuse under the current branch leadership has actually increased!
2015 marks the fifth year that we’ve all urged the other two branches to take notice and take action. Each calendar year the call for change has steadily grown louder and the voices demanding change have increased. Today, you can’t walk the halls of the capitol without hearing that every legislator is aware of all of the significant problems yet there continues to be deniers that submit to the theory that an independent branch of government has the right to defraud the rest of us with reckless spending habits that are getting worse and not better.
For five long miserable years the previous leadership of the legislature either protected the branch or turned a blind eye to the complaints but things turned around in the last election as the voices for change grew and got louder and more impatient that real change has not yet occurred.
During the coming weeks and months it is critical that your voice gets heard in Sacramento. Specifically, members of the budget subcommittee and your own legislator needs to be armed with the facts and you need to argue that checks and balances does not make the judiciary any less independent – it simply holds them accountable for a lack of results.
As Mr. Reginald Jones-Sawyer outlined, there are useless functions and the people that operate them that need to be eliminated. When Mr. Zlatko Theodorovic moves his lips in defending his need for additional TOSCS funding, the first question out of a legislators mouth needs to be given your track record of bilking the people by approving travel expense claims in excess of state guidelines, your unjustified fleet of 66 vehicles and your ghost fleet of enterprise rent-a-cars how can we believe anything you say?
We’re happy to see proposed increases in the judicial branch budget. But it is important to earmark all of that additional funding solely and completely to the trial courts and to redirect additional funds away from the judicial council to discourage further waste. There needs to be the line-item wholesale elimination of entire programs and the people that run them. There needs to be line-item changes to those who contribute nothing to their pensions, the elimination of the government vehicle, cell phone, parking reimbursement and ipad perks. The judicial council has had five long years to act and another committee isn’t going to make that happen.
It is not up to the judicial branch to determine how their money will be spent. It is the role and responsibility of the legislature to specifically determine and fund how their money will be spent. Those in power need to learn that branch independence is not a license to steal and that there is a price associated with delays, denial and diminishing the findings of independent auditors as well as the strategic evaluation committee.
Make sure that this year results in change that you can believe in by contacting your legislators.