Judicial Wars: Rise of the Judicial Rebel Alliance

UTI1112540_t630For far too long judges in this state have felt that they had to tow the AOC party line and not rock the boat.  Judges did as they were told by the AOC and many felt that they had no choice.  Afterall, if  judges needed money for programs in their county courts they had to go to the AOC.  You know.  The agency that holds the purse strings and dispenses the allowances.  And since the AOC held all the money, that left judges feeling powerless.  But that may all be changing.  And it’s a change that I hope becomes permanent.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that there are judges in this state who have differentiated themselves from many of their colleagues.  Instead of grumbling behind chamber doors amongst their judicial colleagues about how angry they are with the AOC and its handling of the budgetary crisis, they’ve taken the extraordinary step of openly criticizing and questioning the AOC in the media.  And all I can say is, it’s about damn time!!

One of the judges whose willing to put his neck out there and face the wrath of the AOC Empire is Judge Dan Goldstein of San Diego Superior Court.  And if you make the jump to read this article printed by the San Diego Union-Tribune, you’ll see why I really admire this guy.  I’m going to post part of the article where Judge Goldstein summarizes the argument that many have been making about the AOC.

[Judge Dan] Goldstein said the issue for many judges locally and around the state is not the salary reduction. “Most judges in San Diego are going to want to contribute to the courts and stand with the staffs and take a pay cut,” he said.

What rankles Goldstein and other judges is that the pay cut and the monthly courthouse closures were presented as a done deal and that other alternatives for saving money are not being considered.

“We are shutting an entire branch of the government down,” he said. “They are not shutting down the executive branch for a day, and the legislative branch isn’t doing it either.”

The court system is sitting on a $500 million fund to build courthouses, and hundreds of millions have been allocated for improving court technology, Goldstein said. Moreover, he said, the Administrative Office of the Courts — the statewide court-staffing agency, based in San Francisco — has added hundreds of employees since 2004. Making cuts there could have been an alternative to closing courts, he said.

“We believe it is more important to keep the courts open,” Goldstein said. “There were better mechanisms to use.”

Goldstein said he has heard from hundreds of judges across the state who were displeased by how the judges association did not push back more against the cutbacks. He said those judges want more transparency in how the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Judicial Council make decisions and ensure ongoing access to the courts.

“We are going to form an organization that adheres to those principles,” Goldstein said.

Now this is a guy you can believe in.  And the rest of you judges out there, and I know there are judges reading this blog, aught to get behind the efforts of Judge Goldstein and others in their efforts to have more transparency from the AOC.  And for those of you in the media who still haven’t gotten the bigger picture here but have been focused on judicial officers voluntarily giving up their pay, let me just repost a portion of the article for you and bold one of the key points you should take notice of.

The court system is sitting on a $500 million fund to build courthouses, and hundreds of millions have been allocated for improving court technology, Goldstein said. Moreover, he said, the Administrative Office of the Courts — the statewide court-staffing agency, based in San Francisco — has added hundreds of employees since 2004. Making cuts there could have been an alternative to closing courts, he said.

Can I make it any more clearer than Judge Goldstein did?  Do I need to start drawing pictures for you guys?

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4 responses to “Judicial Wars: Rise of the Judicial Rebel Alliance

  1. While I support his efforts, it is unfortunate Judge Goldstein feels it is necessary to start a new organization in attempt to prompt transparency from the AOC. The Judicial Branch should exhibit the highest degree of integrity and accountability. I hope the JC/AOC leadership engages in some self-reflection and be willing to admit it has made some mistakes in terms of its priorities and lack of transparency. I am afraid they will instead attempt to portray Judge Goldstein and other judicial officers and court employees who voice any dissent as misinformed malcontents.

  2. fallbrookflats

    I’m not sure it is entirely accurate to conclude, as the first commenter did, that “…it is unfortunate Judge Goldstein feels it is necessary to start a new organization…”.

    Although Judge Goldstein has become a higly visible and vocal player in the movement to create a new organization for California Judges, he is not the originator of the idea. He is but one of a large and growing number of judges who believe that CJA has become too close to AOC/JC and who have lost faith in the CJA’s abilitiy or willingness to effectively represent the membership.

    Some of the facts that give rise to those feeling are: 1) In the recent past senior AOC/JC staff were regularly invited to CJA Board meetings; 2) Past Presidents and other CJA officials either hold or have held seats on the Judicial Council; 3) CJA’s historical reluctance to challenge AOC/JC actions or proposals no mater how strongly opposed by membership; 4) CJA’s rubber stamping of the AOC/JC plan for court closures, employee furloughs and the so called VSR as (a first option) with little or no input from its membership knowing full well that the plan was strongly opposed (as a first option) by a significant number of judges.
    (Note: The last example may have been the last straw that animated the disaffected to go in another direction. Ed.)

    Although Judge Goldstein is a courageous and effective leader and the movement is fortunate to have him, it wasn’t his “..feel(ing) that it is necessary to start a new organization…” that created the movement. His is simply a more public reflection of many judges who have felt that way for a long time.

  3. I agree – it was a poor choice of words. What I wanted to convey is that it is unfortunate that Judge Goldstein or any other judicial officer is portrayed as a rebel for simply asking that the AOC conduct its business in a more transparent manner. The governance structure of the JC/AOC does not provide a meaningful opportunity for discussion of important issues. The decision to close the courts for a day was based on recommendation from AOC executive leadership. Courts were told about the decision but not until it was being drafted into legislation, which did not give ample time for debate withing the branch. Policy decisions made by the JC are the result closed session executive committees meetings held the day before the public JC meetings. At the committee meetings JC members are presented with memos prepared by AOC staff. I expect the JC adopts the recommendation of AOC staff more than 99% of the time. The process is not transparent nor was it intended to be since the Chief Justice appoints the majorty of the members of the council.
    I don’t disagree that CJA could have taken a stronger stand and needs to be more independent of the AOC. However, in the defense of CJA it was its lobbyist that caught the AOC’s attempt to amend GC 77001 to remove any reference to local court control of trial court’s operations and budgets.

  4. Agreed. CJA has been asleep at the swith at times and far too docil in the face of multiple attakcs by AOC on certain judges that they view as enemies. But they do much good with little and their lobbyist is always there to help the judges. but he can only do what the leadership of CJA allows him to do. It is the judicial leaders of CJA that need to step up and be heard here or they will make themsleves irrelevant at this critical time