This comment was posted under the comments section of this post and I wanted to give this person the benefit of the doubt of having his views seen by more readers. So I’ve taken the liberty of giving his comment a post of its own. Feel free to discuss what you read in the comments section.
The following comment was posted by ServingTheCourtsForTheBenefitOfAllCalifornians.
I’m an employee of the AOC employed through the ramp-up over the last 10 years and I have to state that many observations here, although somewhat accurate, many miss the mark or are misleading and here’s why.
1) Some AOC employees like myself were previously well established, highly paid engineering, architectural and technical consultants IN OTHER JOBS WORKING FOR OTHER COMPANIES that took pay cuts as high as 50% to go to work for the AOC and provide a public service because we wanted to be on the ground floor of an exciting opportunity; Reshaping the judicial branch of California and being to go home with pride in our minds and in our hearts saying “I did that”.
Hiring these people saved the state money, however a growing AOC is not without its critics as exhibited here.
Many of those 100K wage earners earned twice as much elsewhere before going to work for the AOC and many can make twice as much elsewhere by leaving the AOC.
Now its said that one can more easily justify contracting out at all levels of government over hiring an employee because its the added employees and not the consultants and contractors that come under scrutiny. This site is proof-positive of that.
2) The CFP’s do not cover the costs as the true costs were hidden by years of deferred maintenence. County entities were charging the courts for services rendered – and trying to balance their own budgets with these fees while providing a minimal level of repairs and upkeep and continuing to defer maintenence – for as long as 15 years. Getting that lightbulb replaced by some counties was indeed a challenge. They would replace the bulb but our local courthouse would have to buy the bulb and pay for its replacement and there were 58 different and ever-evolving ways throughout the state to accomplish simple things like changing a light bulb imposed on by the courts and ultimately, the State of California from the counties. The situation became more and more untentable as tax revenues dropped and counties suffered the most.
Today, the Office of Court Construction and Management attempts to manage a maintenence backlog somewhere around 350 million with a budget thats about 1/10th of that amount. Do the math, project the implications.
Some courthouses will fare better than others because they are newer. Other courthouses need to simply be replaced with some being built at the turn of the century. Amador County’s holding cell before they moved was a coat closet with bars instead of a door. Mammoth Lakes and Santa Clara courts are courts that rented space sitting in old storefronts. Susanville is a turn-of-the-century courthouse where prisoners must walk through public areas in a building that cannot be expanded nor can it continue to be utilized because they don’t meet various code requirements. Replacing the turn of the century structure was deemed more cost effective than remodeling it. Markleeville courthouse cannot handle so much as a room fan without blowing all the circuits in the building and so on and so on and so on.
3) Not taking the buildings ‘as is’ would result in years of costly state/county sniping for money or worse – litigation with one government entity suing another – surely not a good way to spend your tax dollars.
Some entity needed to come up with the money as the counties surely weren’t building lots of new courthouses to meet the demand. County tax dollars, state tax dollars – they are still tax dollars and surcharges charged to fund the projects where they were not previously funded at all.
Remember, the voters passed the initiative in 1998. They never spelled out how it would be funded and it took years to get that funding to execute the will of the voters.
4) New courthouses are needed because some 21% of the courthouses are deemed unsafe to the public, having serious security issues or an inability with being able to comply with various codes, access to justice via accomodations or simply because there was no available courtrooms.
In the inland empire area, defendants who waived time were stuck in local jails for a really really long time (I’ve heard citations as long as two years) waiting for justice – because there were no available judges or courtrooms in a community that had experienced explosive growth, yet didn’t add a single court building.
5) Some major buildings inherited by the state had suffered so much deferred maintenence on buildings that were built in the late 50’s and early 60’s -and had a design life of 50 years that its cheaper to tear them down and rebuild than it is to wait for the next ‘big one’ when some may simply collapse. Long Beach Courthouse is a perfect example. Do you think any county is going to come up with the 300 million to replace massive courthouses like Long Beach or to add massive courthouses like San Bernardino or Fresno? When you fail to preserve defendants rights to a speedy trial and speedy arraignments because they do not waive time, then you must release them and dismiss the charges. This was already happening for a large swath of low-level crimes in strained areas and its getting worse as county prosecutors statewide continue to decline prosecution for minor offenses or public defenders can’t take additional cases due to a lack of resources.
Add the inavailability of courts to the mix and you have a recipe for virtual anarchy; something I think a few tax dollars is well worth investing against.
Please keep in mind: The 400 or so employees hired by the AOC in the last 5 or so years are expected to provide the same services as 4,000 county level employees that previously provided a wide variety of services to the courts. Since 1998, the counties have judicial branch employees work in buildings that were quite literally falling apart.
The two service providers that do all of that maintenence are for the most part an insignificant force multiplier due to the tiny pot of money alloted to maintain these structures, the AOC themselves has to make some really hard choices and these choices were not easy.
Access to justice is paramount simply because its a constitutional requirement. Utilizing what little money there is, OCCM is just trying to tread water and not lose any more buildings by deferring years of deferred maintenence even further and prioritizing the needs of some 500+ structures they inherited, eclipsing even DGS in the amount of owned real estate
The State Department of General Services (DGS) rents around 17,000 buildings and offices and only owns and operates 60 of those buildings. The AOC has over 500 owned buildings that transferred with a huge percentage of those transferring last year.
Some AOC people are seasoned veterans from DGS and many others are well seasoned private industry real estate, architectural, technology or engineering specialists who can easily set aside -at times- paralyzing state politics in Sacramento and still get the job done.
Courthouse construction is incredibly unique architecture found in no other buiding, with three distinct pathways for the public, the incarcerated, and the employees all in an effort to keep everyone safe and separated from each other.
Criticisms of CCMS are also not on the mark when you consider the alternative thats currently being used in some courts for Case Management.
Even technologically inept Missouri has one statewide case mangement system called case.net where anyone can look up any case on the internet.
California is the home of the personal computer and technological innovation and yet has no such case management system – but its in the process of developing one.
In one case, this case management system will replace “foxpro running on DOS” in one trial court and about 2 dozen other differing packaged and home-brewed case management systems statewide.
We are one of the few states that lacks a statewide case management system. Our well vetted laws that in lots of cases are pioneering do not permit us to download freeware or purchase a commercial off the shelf product as a suitable alternative to a fully integrated, statewide case management system.
And lastly: The dedicated employees of the AOC took VOLUNTARY furloughs and pay cuts long before they were ever made mandatory and the savings by doing so more than offset all layoffs statewide.
The judicial branch cannot afford the loss of a single human resource be they at the trial court level OR the AOC.
I believe that I speak for everyone that took those voluntary furloughs as I did myself, took the pay cut and worked furlough days anyways so that our associates throughout the entire judicial branch would not suffer with layoffs and the job would get done anyways….because it seemed like the right thing to do.
Now, in various courts around the state, unions are fighting furloughs. They did that in Rhode Island too.
And when push came to shove, the judge told the Rhode Island Governor, “sorry, the unions are correct, you cannot implement a furlough. Instead you have to implement a layoff” which….if you really think about it, is the only viable alternative to a furlough.
Our hearts truly go out to our associates in the trial courts who were laid off but you need to understand that the California court system was never top-down management.
There is no “King George” and while Chief Justice George may indeed be the presiding justice of the California Supreme Court, he has little or nothing to do with the trial courts other than being a fierce advocate for access to justice and equitable funding to provide that access that we as a public demand.
Rather,the AOC is one newly transformed entity entrusted to trying assist in the management of 58 distinctly different kingdoms with a budget thats a fraction of what it should be and about 1/10th the amount of employees that the counties required to do the same job.
EXEMPT EMPLOYEES who put in 60+ hour weeks are the norm at the AOC – not the exception.
I would invite any person anywhere to shadow me for a week while I do my job. I am the only person doing it anywhere in the Judicial Branch and I should be a part of a team of 10 people supporting my particular job statewide.
That part has been well established.
Instead of having those kinds of resources, I like many other people in the AOC are in awe of the tremendous responsibility we have to serve the 37.5 million people of the State of California with about 1/10th of the workforce the counties employed to do the same job.
Up until recently, the AOC had a program where we would go out for a week and walk a mile in the shoes of our associates in the Trial Courts. This program was suspended because our own resources were stretched too thin.
However, I’m willing to bet if you ask Bill Vickery or Ron Overholt if you can shadow any one of our staff for a week and see the dozens of projects each one juggles while often burning the midnight or weekend oil to get it done. Most of these people like myself are are exempt employees or working managers. I think rather than being a critic, you would spin around and be an advocate and wonder like we do at times, how we manage to accomplish so much with so little.
We know. Our families know when they don’t see us for days on end or we bring our work home.
The people of the AOC are proud of the work that we do for the people of the State of California as well as our valued associates and peers in the trial courts.
Being afraid of that which one does not know completely is human nature and we probably don’t do the best at public information and outreach as we should to belay these criticisms.
Fair enough but it isn’t because we don’t try. We simply lack the resources to disseminate this public information in a manner that would offset the criticisms from people and sites like this one.
Walk a mile in our shoes. Your whole perspective will unquestionably change.