AOC Refuses to Make Good on Chief Justice’s Promise of Transparency

Posted on April 21, 2016

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“Because your email requests information not set forth in judicial administrative records, it is being referred to Justice Harry E. Hull, Jr., the Chief Justice’s designee for considering such requests, pursuant to policy 2.8. . . .”.

 

These words are the death knell for many a request for information about the AOC. Three recent examples:

  • Judge Greg Dohi came across a rumor that the AOC had purchased a new SUV for a high-ranking official for less-than-compelling reasons. Sure enough, AOC purchase orders obtained by fellow Alliance director Kevin McCormick showed that the AOC had bought two new SUVs, along with two hybrids, in the relevant time frame, even though the AOC had a contract with Enterprise for vehicle fleet services. In November of last year, Judge Dohi sent an email to Administrative Director Hoshino asking for whose use these cars were purchased. He included copies of the purchase orders. Director Hoshino promptly replied that he had referred the matter to his staff.

Three weeks later, the AOC’s Public Access to Judicial Administrative Records unit (PAJAR) informed Judge Dohi that the agency did in fact have responsive documents and would be sending them by December 7, 2015. That date came and went. Then on December 21, PAJAR sent an e-mail reporting that it was “still researching” as to whether the AOC had any responsive documents. In January, after Judge Dohi sent a reminder, PAJAR completely backpedaled and told him that it had no records responsive to his request. His inquiry, they said, was being treated as a request for information rather than a request for documents. They used the standard verbiage and punted the matter over to Justice Hull. Finally, Justice Hull sent a letter on January 20: “[T]here are no records, beyond those which you have already received, that are responsive to your questions.” So after three months and multiple e-mails, Judge Dohi had no more information than when he started. Should we not consider the Judicial Council’s failure to identify a legitimate business purpose for the purchase of these expensive vehicles an admission that none exists?

 

  • Judge John Adams, Director of Judicial Education for the Alliance, was curious: If CJER pays for lodging at CJA conferences, would it consider doing the same for judges attending Alliance educational programs? After all, the Alliance’s programs feature speakers who have taught for CJA and for CJER in the past. In early March, Judge Adams wrote to Diane E. Cowdrey, Director of CJER / Operations and Programs Division of the AOC, “I . . . would like very much to learn more about what you might offer for our consideration of inclusion with our 2016 conference. That some of the lodging cost could be reimbursed, as will be done at the CJA conference in Monterey next month, would be wonderful for traveling judges.” Ms. Cowdrey’s one-sentence nonresponsive reply, after a week’s delay and prompting from Judge Adams: “We appreciate the invitation to hold a CJER course at the upcoming Alliance conference, but must decline the invitation at this time.” When Judge Adams asked for more information about “the specific nature of the CJER relationship with CJA, and the contractual underpinnings of that relationship,” as well as about who decided to “decline the invitation,” he got the boilerplate notice that his request had been shunted off to Justice Hull. A month and a half has passed and not a word from Justice Hull.

 

  • The AOC recently announced that it intended to keep the bulk of its work force in San Francisco, despite the recommendations of both the SEC Committee in 2012 and the State Auditor in 2015 that the entire outfit be moved to Sacramento. Retired Judge Charles Horan wanted to know who made the decision: Was it Administrative Director Hoshino, acting in excess of his authority? Or was it the Council, acting in secret? He sent an e-mail to Director Hoshino, who forwarded it to Justice Hull. Three months have passed–Justice Hull has never answered.

The Chief Justice herself told us in 2011 that she believed in “absolute transparency.” The AOC’s responses to our questions make a mockery of her words. We’ll keep asking the hard questions, but we’re not holding our breath for any answers.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges