As San Mateo Superior Court CEO John Fitton announces the lay off of 28 employees, AOC Watcher has questions about the court’s reserves and the silence of its judges.
In a stunning statement that will surely be a contender for the AOC Watcher’s Understatement of the Year Award, Court Executive Officer John Fitton of the San Mateo Superior Court was quoted in an article today that the superior court’s finance department’s failure to notice that the court was $3.89 million in debt last year was, in a word, “disturbing.”
Fitton said an investigation by the Administrative Office of the Courts has already confirmed that the $3.89 million deficit for the 2008-09 fiscal year is accurate and is continuing to investigate why no one discovered it until mid-August, a lapse Fitton called “disturbing.”
He said the Administrative Office of the Courts will complete its report this week and “any individual who was found negligent will be held appropriately accountable.”
D-i-s-t-u-r-b-i-n-g. Let me see if I can wrap my mind around this Mr. Fitton. Your court’s frack up is leading to the lay off of 28 court employees and the best adjective you can come up with is “disturbing?” How about “tragic?” How about “disastrous?” How about “inexcusable?” How about “embarrassing?” If you’re reading this Mr. Fitton, you might want to check out this site. You know. To brush up on your vocabulary.
And if your court has $13.5 million in reserves, of which you’re using part of that to cover last year’s 2 + 2 = 5 fiasco, why aren’t you using the rest of what you have in reserves to cover this year’s deficit to prevent lay offs? Why aren’t you doing what other counties are planning to do which is to dip into their reserves beyond what the AOC recommends to prevent the lay offs of court staff? I happen to know for a fact that one particular court is planning on dipping deep into their reserves leaving them with less than $1 million in reserves. And why is this county court doing this? Because they’ve made a pledge to their court staff to prevent lay offs. In fact, this particular court administration has received nothing short than marching orders from its judicial bench officers to do everything possible to avoid lay offs. That’s why they’re dipping below the AOC required minimum balance in its reserves.
Now, if the judges of this particular Bay Area court are willing to sign off on a plan that will wind up almost depleting its reserves to protect the jobs and livelihoods of its employees, why isn’t the San Mateo Superior Court willing to do the same? Why aren’t we hearing from the judges in this court? Why aren’t we hearing the same pledge of no lay offs at any cost from them? Surely the judges of the San Mateo Superior Court would be happy to contribute more from the reserves to make up for the deficit. Are they even aware of the plans that other counties have regarding their reserves? Hellooooooooooooo? Are you judges in San Mateo awake out there or what? At the end of the day, the judicial officers have to take some sort of a stand with their employees. And I’m sorry, but the volunteer salary giveback program just isn’t going to cut it.
And here’s another thought for you San Mateo judges to ponder. Your finance department, your CEO, your court administration are not elected by the voters in your county. You, however, are. People may be able to take out their frustrations with you in ways they can’t with court admin. I wouldn’t be too surprised if people who are utterly disgusted with this whole situation start campaigns against judges who sat by and did nothing. Hey. I’ve heard that scenario mentioned more than once by court employees. Preposterous? Maybe. But a lot can happen when a large group of people are disgruntled with elected officers.
As for the AOC, what is the AOC, you know, the agency that was supposed to be overseeing the finances of San Mateo Superior Court and double checking to make sure its books were balanced, doing about all of this? Well, their investigation will reportedly be completed by this week and according to Fitton “any individual who was found negligent will be held appropriately accountable.” Exactly what does “appropriately accountable” mean? Will the persons involved get laid off? Are they going to get fired? Sorry if that last sentence seems harsh, but guess what? So is the lay off of 28 court employees who had nothing to do with the financial frack up.
I can’t wait to hear what the AOC has to say in their report. It’ll probably be something illuminating like, “Yes, there was a frack up. We’re sorry it happened. Those involved have been held appropriately accountable. It won’t happen again.” Now there’s something that I find truly DISTURBING.