Time to audit the construction program

Posted on March 5, 2015

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Far and away the largest program that the judicial council operates is the facilities maintenance and court construction program. The program itself not only employs people directly but by virtue of needing administrative support from the AOC to keep it operating, it funds a host of other unrelated positions throughout the former AOC in places like finance, information technology, human resources, security, legal services, education, etc, etc. Basically, the construction program funds over a hundred other positions that have nothing to do with court construction or facilities maintenance. Approximately a third of all employment at the AOC is funded by construction funds. This funding is also paying for about 2/3 of the vehicle fleet, 1/3 of all information technology assets and more than 3/4 of all AOC facilities leases.

The Judicial Council \ AOC likes to carve out the construction program from their actual budget. In the budgetary pie chart (link), the AOC likes to say that the judicial council themselves gets a paltry 4.2% of the entire judicial branch budget while the judicial branch facilities program gets a whopping 10% of the entire judicial branch budget.

What they do not wish to be transparent about is all of the above and carve out how much of that 10% goes to AOC operations. They want to treat this 10% as a standalone expense even though a majority of this money is spent exclusively by the AOC to support AOC operations.

It was this same construction program that built the 4.7 million dollar Plumas-Sierra storage shed. It was the same construction program that signed off on the 2.3 billion dollar Long Beach courthouse. It is the same construction program that is being used to reward judicial council loyalists instead of addressing the actual needs of the courts. It is this same construction program that filled courthouses from the Oregon border to the Mexican border with unlicensed contractors and grossly overpaid them for work and was the subject of an epic cover-up. It was this same construction program that ensured all appellate court construction was underway before the money was spent on larger trial court projects. It was the same construction program that Jody Patel used to remodel what is known as NCRO a total of 4 times in 3 years and paid for the stealth lease to SRO for those supporting construction and maintenance activities.

In short, we absolutely know that these monies were misspent. We strongly suspect that kickbacks from this program paid for remodeling jobs for the insiders personal residences and other real estate holdings. And we strongly suspect that actual cash kickbacks in the form of referral fees was also paid to the insiders and decision makers because in a great irony, the construction program exempted the judiciary from all fraud, waste, abuse and conflict of interest laws with predictable results.

The court construction program is the reason that the AOC is so large. If the program were totally eliminated or moved to where it belongs in the department of general services, more than 1/3 of all AOC employment would vaporize.

Years ago, Michael Paul warned us all that CCMS is pocket change compared to the waste in the construction program but no one would listen.

Today, more than 500 judges are also demanding an audit of the court construction program and in light of all of the other sobering audits, legislators are beginning to listen but an audit is far from a done deal. There is an unusually powerful lobby in Sacramento that would prefer that no audit happens. This lobby is represented not only by state contractors but construction unions that banded together to form the state building and construction trades council.(link)

We have no doubt about the improprieties of this program and no doubt that a myriad of laws have been routinely flouted by those who appear beyond accountability. We also do not disagree with the need for court construction. But the judiciary running the whole construction program and exempt from all fraud, waste abuse and public corruption laws in doing so has already resulted in billions of dollars in losses and the termination of ten critical, on the books projects. It has resulted in judicial council insiders being able to re-order the construction list to reward loyalists at the expense of the public it was destined to serve.

In short, the construction program should have been audited years ago and moved from the judicial council to DGS where there are no exemptions to public corruption laws.

The time for a construction audit is now.