Judicial Inquisition By Media Comes to the Bay Area

The media continues to hunt down judges not participating in voluntary salary waiver program.  And the AOC is more than happy to turn over names.

Well, readers.  All I can say is, I told you so!  Last week the Daily Journal printed an article about how the majority of  judges in LA Superior Court were participating in the AOC’s voluntary salary waiver program (VSW).  A program in which judicial officers would give up a day’s pay for each court closure day.  The article also published the names seven judges and 29 commisioners who did not participate in the program.  As an added bonus the Daily Journal also printed the photos of five of the judges.  You know.  So you could put a face to the name.  I said in my post that I suspected this was just the beginning of a judicial witch hunt to find out who has and hasn’t participated.  And now a little bird has given me a bit of news that has confirmed my suspicion.

A reporter from the legal newspaper The Recorder has been poking around one Bay Area court asking which judges have participated in the salary giveback program.  Apparently this reporter is writing an article that will cover several Bay Area county courts.  But here’s the kicker.  This reporter is barking up the wrong tree.  The agency that has the names of which judge has or hasn’t participated is not the individual court where the judge presides.  So which agency has the list of names?  Well, there are two and one is the State Controller’s Office.  The other?  Bingo!  The AOC.   And will the AOC turn over the list of names to the public and media if they ask?  We all know the answer to that one.

In an email sent out by the AOC July 22nd, in which they detailed how the voluntary salary waiver program was going to work, the AOC provided some FAQs answers to questions about the program.  And one of the FAQ questions/answers explains how the AOC is going to handle any request for information on which judges have or haven’t participated in the VSW program.

Question:  How will the SCO (State Controller’s Office) and AOC respond to a public inquiry about the names of participants in the VSW program?

Answer:  The AOC has discussed with the SCO its policy on disclosing the names of participants in the VSW (voluntary salary waiver) program.  SCO staff at the Division Chief level has informed AOC staff that the SCO would release the names of participants upon request in the same manner in which the SCO would treat a public request for information about members of the Legislature who decline to receive full salary.

The AOC would also release, upon request, the names of participants in the VSW program and the extent of their participation.  This is consistent with the AOC’s policy regarding public access to information and records, which generally is consistent with the requirements of the Public Records Act.

I have a couple comments here.   The first is this.   I’ve said it in my previous post and I’ll say it again, I salute those judges that have participated or plan to participate in the VSW program.  But this is a temporary diversion from the real issue that the media and public should be focusing on and that’s the AOC past and current spending habits.  What is the point of harassing the judges about the VSW program when there are still MILLIONS of dollars that the AOC has in its coffers that it could have used to prevent the closures to begin with?  Is this reporter from The Recorder going to write an article about that?  I certainly hope so.  And the AOC Watcher just knows that the AOC will be more than happy to help provide the media with ANY information that will take the spotlight away from them.  And to the AOC’s benefit they can claim they’re doing so in the name of “public access.”

And my second comment has to do with the last sentence in the second paragraph in the AOC’s answer to the question.  I’ll post it here again, bold it, and quote it.

This is consistent with the AOC’s policy regarding public access to information and records, which generally is consistent with the requirements of the Public Records Act.

Really?  The AOC has a policy in providing public access to information?  Well, that must come as news to those who have been hammering the AOC for years to get them to open their books.  But it’s nice to know that the AOC has a policy regarding “public access to records and information.”  Too bad it’s a policy they appear to exercise only when it benefits them.

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5 responses to “Judicial Inquisition By Media Comes to the Bay Area

  1. First, allow me to congratulate you on your blog’s stated intentions—to keep a close eye on the AOC, its operations, actions, and budget. I say this because of my belief that if ever an organization needed closer scrutiny, it is the AOC. They have become a hugely bloated bureaucracy, whose staff has grown almost exponentially over the past decade, until the now have over 900 full time employees “helping” judges do their job.

    I write simply to correct what I think is a small mistake in your understanding of the facts relating to the salary waiver situation.

    First of all, the article you refer to in actuality dealt with the LA Superior Court’s salary waiver program, NOT the AOC waiver program. To my knowledge, the vast majority of the judges in Los Angeles who chose to participate in a waiver program chose the LA program, NOT the AOC program, notwithstanding that the AOC program offers a bit of a tax advantage—the donation comes from pre-tax dollars, I believe, under the AOC plan. The advantage of the LA plan is primarily that the money will remain in LA, and not simply be returned to the AOC to do with as they see fit. That is why I will participate in the LA plan, but never in the AOC plan. I believe that other courts around the state are looking into the possibility of designing similar plants for their local courts, and thus giving judges the option of avoiding the AOC plan.

    Thus, the list of those initially participating in the program was prepared by the LA Court and forwarded to whomever it saw fit—the AOC, I believe. From there, it was only a heartbeat until the press had it. However, we were informed in advance that whatever decision we made would be a matter of public record, due to the fact that our court takes the position that the source of any money contributed to the courts must be reported to the AOC. Again, I stress that this was known to all of us—including those of us who initially chose a “wait and see” posture to look into the viability of each plan. Again, please keep in mind that the LA plan was created by and for the LA court, and began before the AOC plan had even been passed into law. This is because the LA court had two furlough days (judges worked, but staff was furloughed) prior to the passage of the closure legislation (which authorized the judicial council to designate court holidays, as opposed to mere furlough days, commencing in September, 2009. Beginning then, all courts in the state will be totally closed on the third Wednesday of the month.

    Hope this helps clarify things. Again, please keep up the good work. In closing, I ask that you maintain your focus on what is truly important to those interested in reform of the AOC, and without which that reform will certainly never come. That is the democratization of the manner in which the members of the judicial council are chosen. Now, they are primarily selected by the chief justice, and virtually always do as he asks.
    In the past 20 years, there has never been a situation wherein the council took a position contrary to the chief. This was, sadly, true in the case of court closures as well.

    Chuck Horan

  2. I wonder if Judge Horan would tell us where the money the he and the other judges are donating is going?

    Would it be into L.A. Superior Courts general fund or into something like the Judges flower fund which at one point years ago was a slush fund for the judges.

  3. Sure, H. My understanding, though I’m not an expert on the plan, is that they will somehow try to have it end up with the furloughed employees to make up for one or more days that they don’t get paid. I think, though I’m not sure, that they initially hoped that the plan might result in the ability to stay upon on a furlough day, but now that the furlough days have been designated state holidays (i.e., no courts at all open, even skeleton crews like LA did the first two days) I don’t think that is an option any longer. I’m really not an expert, though, and didn’t take part in designing the plan. I suggest that you might contact Judge McCoy, the presiding judge, or Judge Edmon, the assistant presiding judge, or perhaps the court’s public information officer, for the details, assuming they’ve been finalized. I can’t really speak to the details, or on behalf of the court, as I hope you understand.

    Chuck Horan

  4. Thank you for your reply. I truly understand that you are not speaking for the court. Nor would I ask you to.

    Sadly The PJ, APJ or Mr.P. the court’s PIO have remained mute on the subject.

  5. The latests info from the AOC is the money extorted from the judges is not only going to the AOC but will be distributed by the AOC to various counties in the state the kikker..less any money the local court receives directly from a judge who thinks they are giving money to their own court…the AOC will deduct that from whatever they would have otherwise granted the local court…so ..no matter what..the money goes…yes to the AOC.