Beyond Accountability – A call for legislative and executive branch intervention

Posted on March 2, 2015

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The latest state auditors report is just another report in a long string of reports going back for over five years that have repeatedly painted the judicial council into a corner. As each report was released a very highly paid army of insiders went on the offensive in a concerted effort to discount the conclusions of these reports. Whenever possible, they re-framed catastrophic failures in both management and oversight as water under the bridge that they’ve already addressed.

And yet the same management remains largely intact.

When the Strategic Evaluation Committee report came out, they had a tougher time regurgitating that nut because it was a group of judges and justices appointed by the chief justice that came to their own conclusions. Initially, the judicial council insiders tried to bury the report by not fully accepting it. That created quite a bit of backlash and uproar. When that didn’t work, they placed the report on a path to die a death of a thousand cuts by indicating that they would spend eighteen months studying the report and as the state auditor noted, the AOC would be re-writing the conclusions and recommendations of the report.

One of the big fixes implemented as a result of the SEC report was the reorganization of leadership at the helm of the AOC. No longer would there be three regional directors. Instead of three regional directors,they would be replaced with a chief of staff, a chief administrative officer and a chief operating officer all at much higher salaries and substantially less responsibilities. Those three would be reporting to a new administrative director that was merely a transitional figurehead and future fall guy named Jahr.

While maintaining a ghost fleet of rental cars, this management embarked on acquiring approximately sixty more vehicles than they owned just five years ago, many of which would turn out to be an additional perk on top of a myriad of other exclusive benefits. Even though the top-loading of pension benefits is illegal in the private sector because it takes away from rank and file workers, this same leadership believed that it was perfectly acceptable to top-load their own pension benefits because the taxpayers are picking up the tab, not rank and file workers. This same leadership that is in place today could not bring themselves to the conclusion that it was wrong for the taxpayers to pay their employees share of contributions.

Moreover, the judicial council and their myriad of committees themselves never took the issue up and said it was wrong.

The reason this never happened is because it is only close insiders that are ever appointed chairs to those committees and chairs and the AOC determine the agenda.

Had the chairs of those committees had been elected by the committee members or even by a branchwide peer election, the issues of the extra sixty cars and the top loading of pension benefits might have became an agenda item somewhere and it might have been addressed without an outside party indicating there was a problem.

You’ll also note that even though these are being addressed now, they are being addressed not by any judicial council committee, they’re being addressed by the new man that will burn at the political stake in Sacramento if he fails to show a token amount of reform; the new administrative director. His token amount of reform was to address pensions, parking perks and 22 of the 66 vehicles – all with great fanfare, even though it should have been done years ago.

Previously, it was the three stooges below him, Patel, Soderlund and Child that were making these decisions and benefiting from them as well. Yet only the figurehead Jahr who we all knew took the job knowing his days were numbered took a graceful bow and went back into retirement. He was never in charge, he was never accountable but the resignation gave everyone an out to say they have new management and a new direction. He was programmed to take the fall knowing that he was beyond accountability. And yet the three stooges remain on stage, largely because they too are beyond accountability. The same as it ever was.

One of the most fundamental issues is that even if Martin Hoshino wanted to hold the three stooges accountable, the chief justice would never permit it to happen. After all, she brought all of these three on board and rather than start them in the bottom or middle of the pay scale, she chose to pay them all at the very top of their newly defined pay scale. Even though when they’re at the very top of the pay scale and are not entitled to step increases, it has not stopped the three stooges for putting in for their own step increases and the chief justice approving them.

Many others at the top of their pay scales never saw a step increase.

While pensions, parking and cars are all items that needed to be addressed, Mr. Hoshino has a tough row to hoe in convincing both the legislature and the rest of the judicial branch that he is serious about reform without a serious management shake-up that tosses many out on the street or forces them into retirement.

We’ve watched five painful years of musical chairs while more than a billion dollars was depleted from the branch due to waste and mismanagement at the top. This was not a trial court problem but it was the trial courts that took the financial hit for it. To this day, we have a council that is adamant about being in complete control of case management as a method to engender continued patronage and claw away additional trial court dollars.

When cloud computing could be brought in house and implemented across all courts at a small fraction of what it costs to run operations out of the California courts technology center in Arizona, the IT leadership of the AOC continues to believe that best value can be had by farming it all out to private contractors because then they get to avoid accountability. We understand that a few years ago the AOC’s massive datacenter on the third floor was completely rebuilt and that more than half of the racks remain empty. Was the thought there just to buy empty racks and make it look impressive?

The point of this is that we’ve witnessed the trial courts banding together to achieve items that the paralyzed judicial council themselves could not resolve.Many of the current court data centers have excess capacity as a result of virtualization. This excess capacity could be shared with other courts that don’t have resources and certain courts have the ability to serve as data center hubs to smaller trial court spokes as a means of job security to the larger courts and better services to the smaller courts.

Innovation happens at the court level. Only expensive boondoggles happen at the judicial council level. It’s wholly conceivable that trial courts could deal out the AOC and shrink them by force…. if they were to band together to resolve their most pressing issues and challenges.

Another way to manage it is to let the legislature establish judicial branch priorities and funding. I doubt they would fund the boondoggles because they’ve demonstrated themselves savvier than that. But they would fund the trial courts and that’s all anyone really wants anyways. Cutting the judicial council budget and programs is an efficient way of eliminating bloated budgets and inefficiencies.

Lets see if this is the year that the legislature and governors office is ready for this realization yet.