Judge cut off in public comment

Posted on August 10, 2016

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Back in 2012, the Chief Justice proclaimed in an interview that she would try to “have new voices circulate in and out” of the Judicial Council.  She said that the Council should counter the perception that it was insular and elitist by “open[ing] everything up to the public.”

Those words have proven to be empty ones, as was painfully demonstrated at the last Judicial Council meeting on July 29.Over the past few weeks, we’ve been telling you about how the Judicial Council has been trying to strip judgeships away from Alameda and Santa Clara Counties and reallocate them elsewhere.

We’ve counted three separate attempts in the past few months to ram proposals through the Legislature, including two that would have given the authority to reassign those judgeships to the Council, perhaps in violation of the California Constitution.  The idea was first floated as a mere “concept” before the Futures Commission.  It soon popped up in the Policy Coordination and Liaison Committee (PCLC), which was on the verge of rubber-stamping it when a firestorm of protest broke out across the state.  Even though this proposal represents a tectonic shift in branch administration toward even greater Council control over local trial courts, the Judicial Council itself has never even discussed it in public, let alone approved it.

Naturally, the presiding judge of Alameda County, Morris Jacobson, had something to say about the Council’s plan to whittle down the Alameda bench.  More specifically, he wanted to express his serious qualms about the process through which a “concept” morphed into a trio of proposed bills with no input from one of the local courts that would be hit the hardest.  Judge Jacobson, a former member of the Council himself, wanted to raise his concerns with the PCLC.  He couldn’t.  Instead, he had to resort to addressing the entire Council during the public comment period.  He was allotted just two minutes to state his case.  Just as he was about to make his “ask,” the council member presiding over the comment period, Judge Marla Anderson of Monterey, called time and cut him off.  We’ve attached Maria Dinzeo’s account from Courthouse News to the end of this message.

You can see what happened for yourself.  Click on this link and scroll ahead to the one-hour mark.

So the presiding judge of the seventh-largest county in the state wanted to say something about a proposal that would profoundly affect his court, a proposal that has enormous constitutional and policy implications, and the Judicial Council of California treated him as though he were a gadfly.  Never was the case for democratizing the Council made so vividly.  This sorry episode puts the lie to the notion that the Council has turned a new leaf.  The Council doesn’t welcome dissenting views; at most, it tolerates them, and only for up to two minutes.

In a related story, Alliance director Maryanne Gilliard of Sacramento recently made a public records request of the AOC and actually got some useful information.  She learned that our branch is shelling out $620,906 this year alone to the National Center for State Courts, most of it, according to a 2015 AOC annual payment report, for “dues and memberships.”

The NCSC has been the incubator of many a bad idea in court administration over the years, but there are nuggets of wisdom among its many reports and periodicals.  We direct the Council’s attention to an article in a recent NCSC publication on leadership and technology.  The author, a Minnesota judge, wrote:

“A healthy court culture is one where leaders hear other voices. Hearing other voices strengthens a court leader and strengthens the court.”

Ours is not a healthy court culture.

The Alliance will continue to push for a democratically elected Council.  The only way to make the Council a responsive and accountable body is to make it a representative one.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

 

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Judge Cut Off From Completing Comments to CA Judicial Council

 

By MARIA DINZEO

 

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – At the California Judicial Council’s Friday meeting, chaired by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the presiding judge of Alameda Superior Court was cut off by a deputy sheriff who approached the lectern to stop him from finishing his comment on a recent policy decision reducing the number of judges in his court.

On a separate agenda item, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye announced she is adding a new, budget-focused committee to the council’s vast array of advisory bodies that already includes the Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee and the Financial Accountability and Efficiency Committee.

On a third agenda item, the council took up the contentious topic of funding for California’s juvenile dependency courts. The program needs a $200 million to function properly, according a report presented at the meeting, but its budget remains stuck at $114.7 million thanks to a line item veto by Governor Jerry Brown.

During his two minutes as a “public commenter,” Presiding Judge Morris Jacobson of Alameda County was trying to address a council decision that has drawn wide criticism from judges, attorneys and the public since it was made. The council decided to reallocate funding and judgeships among California superior courts.

Judge Jacobson described himself as a former Judicial Council member, “a career-long supporter of statewide judicial policy” and “branch loyalist.”

He urged his listeners to rethink how it made those decisions. He pointed to the council’s committee on legislation, which voted in May to pursue legislation that would allow the council to move five vacant judgeships from one county to another. Two of those judgeships will likely be “donated” from Alameda County.

Jacobson took issue with the committee’s process, saying he wasn’t allowed to speak at the meeting prior to the vote.

“As presiding judge in my county, my first priority is to our citizens, our court users, our lawyers, our justice partners, our employees and judges. By not allowing us to participate in having a meaningful opportunity to speak in the course of things, we felt cut off from the herd and it left us without the Judicial Council as a refuge or a place to seek help,” he said. “We were forced to go outside the branch.”

Before he could finish his comment on his voice being unheard, Jacobson was cut off.

“Time’s up,” said Monterey Judge Marla Anderson whose responsibility on the council includes keeping time. Jacobson appeared about to continue, a deputy sheriff immediately stepped towards him, the judge stopped short and stepped away.

The chief justice, chairing the meeting, remained silent.

Martin Hoshino, the current director of the “staff,” which is the rebranded name for the former Administrative Office of the Courts, followed the judge out of the board room located in the Supreme Court building in downtown San Francisco. Hoshino talked wth Jacobson in the hallway for about 15 minutes.

In a hallway interview following that conversation, Jacobson talked about a committee meeting where he was not allowed to represent his court as judgeships were taken away.

“They held a very fast meeting,” said the judge. “We were just 30 minutes away and were told we couldn’t be in the room. That didn’t make sense. Before we could begin considering what a thoughtful response would be, it was in the Legislature being shopped.”

Alameda was labeled a “donor” court by the council in its reallocation, meaning Alameda would have to give up judgeships and money. Jacobson said his court which serves a huge low income population is in fact struggling to keep courtrooms open.

Jacobson said the council’s Policy Coordination and Liaison Committee, which represents the council’s position on legislation, gave him two to three days notice about the phone meeting. “We were told we could listen by phone, but we couldn’t speak,” he said. “I’m just saying we want to be heard in the course of the process.”

He said director Hoshino had been “very receptive and fair-minded” in their conversation.

Back inside, another agenda item at Friday’s meeting also involved a budget matter, the amount of money available for dependency courts which hear cases about children who are abused or neglected.

At last month’s meeting, the council put off voting on how to deal with the allocation for smaller courts under a new funding model that assesses need based on case filings. Attorneys representing parents and children in small counties like Humboldt and Siskiyou cried foul, saying their workloads were much higher than had been determined by the new method.

On Friday, the council decided unanimously — nearly all council votes are unanimous — to give courts with smaller case loads $406,000 in one-time relief funding and set aside a $200,000 reserve from which courts can request when they experience an unexpected rise in cases.

“Even though this works a little bit against my home court from a statewide perspective, I think this is an appropriate move forward to take and carve out some money for these small courts that would be severely impacted,” said Presiding Judge Brian McCabe of Merced.

He noted that Plumas County was slated to lose about $10,000 under the new funding method. “$10,000 for a lot of courts is not much, but for them it would effectively wipe out their ability to handle those cases on a staffing level.”

Presiding Judge Dean Stout said, “Every dollar is important here to these children and families. What we are really talking about, relatively speaking, is a very small amount of money, but it can avoid, in some cases, a rather Draconian effect in the small courts.”

The agenda for Friday’s council meeting did not include the formation of a new budget committee, which Cantil-Sakauye announced at the outset. “We need a new branch-wide approach to budget,” she said.

The new Judicial Branch Budget Committee will now be one of six internal Judicial Council committees, one of a select group that operates just below the council itself, to which all other advisory groups report. Cantil-Sakauye said that for now, the budget committee will be limited to reviewing budget change proposals — requests for money for the judiciary sent to the governor’s Department of Finance at the start of each fiscal year.

“I believe this is not only good governance is reflected in how the legislature operates, but also sound government practice,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “Adding a budget committee is another transformation to enhance the council’s ability to carry out our fiduciary responsibilities.”

Judge David Rubin of San Diego will chair the committee, with Justice Jim Humes as vice-chair. Both are currently council members.