Judicial Wars: The AOC Empire Strikes Back

Watching the parade of supporters testify before the legislative committee this morning made me think maybe the AOC should add a Theatrical Division to its roster because boy did they put on a show this morning.  When the panel of judges representing the AOC entered the room and took their seats in the front of the hearing room, I swear I could hear the strains of the Imperial March.  And then when it was time for the AOC to put on its show, it was full steam ahead with all engines roaring.  The judicial officers spent hours explaining how necessary the AOC is to the implementation of justice in the state and rattled off statistics and numbers supporting not only the AOC’s growth but also the necessity of spending the funds that it has spent.

The AOC must have sent out quite the email to get the number of judges that it did to testify about the miracles that the AOC has performed in their individual counties.  Judicial officer after judicial officer got up and sang the praises of all the wonderful programs that the AOC had brought into fruition. I believe one judge even said something akin to “We depend on the AOC” ignoring the fact that maybe why her court needed the AOC so much is because the AOC has made counties dependent on it.

AOCStrikesBack

The one thing about the hearing that I found rather depressing was the number of judges who got up before the committee and testified in support of the AOC and all that they claim the AOC does for the judicial system.  That these judges were strong supporters of the AOC wasn’t what depressed me.  What depressed me was that almost all of the judges who spoke in support of the AOC failed to acknowledge any support of courtroom staff.  The very people who help to run this court.  Would it have been so hard for any of these judges to acknowledge that the AOC’s recent actions have had a great negative effect on court staff, not to mention on the public?  But no.  It was, “We need CCMS this” and “We couldn’t have done this without the AOC that.”

But the committee members didn’t hear from just AOC supporters.  There were just as many speakers who spoke out against the AOC and in particular its lack of transparency and its priority of spending monies on software over people.  It was very heartening during the hearing to watch the group of people who spoke out against the AOC made up of clerks and representatives of other court staff including courtroom deputies and court reporters.  These people are the real face of the court and the people that the public encounter when they enter courthouses up and down this state.  And for those judges who did speak out against the AOC, in particular Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard comes to mind, I know it must have been greatly appreciated by court staff to hear them speak up.

As I listened to the impassioned pleas of the many AOC supporters I suddenly realized that the AOC would not have gone through the trouble of calling in every chit it possibly had to get people to speak on its behalf if they weren’t concerned.  And that’s where AOC critics can claim victory.  As Chairman De La Torre said at the beginning of the proceedings, the hearing on the AOC had attracted more attention than any other since the committee first started holding hearings.  Increased attention on the AOC is a good thing that will force the AOC to live up to its claim of “serving the courts for the benefit of all Californians.”  I hope that this is not going to be the last hearing on the AOC and if the AOC thinks critics are going to go away after one hearing, they’re sorely mistaken.

So, what did you AOC Watcher readers think of the hearing?  Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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22 responses to “Judicial Wars: The AOC Empire Strikes Back

  1. Jacques-Yves Cousteau

    As an outside observer, I found the hearing distressing. When you have such a striking disconnect among the public speakers (the AOC is great, I am angry over court closures, CCMS is fantastic in MY court, this IT system is a boondoogle) … something clearly has gone horribly wrong. Some distressing observations:

    No one knows Jack about CCMS.

    “Executive Sponsor” Calabro was a thundering dud.

    Efficiency does not apply to choosing appropriate panelists – this was a waste of government money to haul justices and judges in to testify about budget transparency, the growth of an administrative office, and the mechanics of a computer system.

    Oh, and PS. The courts know who the valuable staff are at the AOC. They are mostly the rank and file who go into the courts and professionally and respectfully talk to the people who work in the courts.

  2. At taxpayer expense the AOC had Judges and staff from all over the state come to Sacramento and testify about the goodness of CCMS.

    When the dust settles I think the Legislature will realize that they have been had by the AOC because the simple questions of costs and benefits and what it will cost to complete CCMS and then what it will cost, per year, to maintain it could not ( or would not) be answered by the AOC.

    For the first time in my memory the Legislature has indicated, in a very subtle way, that they do not trust the Judicial Council and the AOC. This is fatal to the Chief and to Mr. Vickrey. It is similar to a police officer who has not been completely candid with the court: the word spreads and that officer is finished forever.

    Now the Legislature can hold the Judicial Council and the AOC to its word and get the facts upon which they have made decisions.

    Did anyone find it strange that the Chief was not there?

  3. just another ticking watch(er)

    My apologies on the length. I promise not to post like this often and, yes, I’m purposely doing so in a somewhat vague manner, so I’m not “targeted”, if you know what I mean? Sad statement of the reality of the situation, and how far-reaching the AOC “Darth Vader light-saber-grasp” can be!

    Definitely a “performance” in the biggest sense of the word on AOC’s part. I, too, was troubled by what I perceived to be “puppet string manipulated” displays of support of the AOC by various parties, most especially the Judges. I hope the committee keeps in mind that its easy to “hire” an “expert witness” to support any given position, if only that “witness” has, or perceives they will have, benefit from supporting said position. This is especially true in the situation at hand wherein the AOC holds the money-ladened purse strings, no? How many of AOC’s witnesses were flown in by the AOC at the cost of the taxpayers? Did they get “wined and dined” or otherwise “prepared”, too? Just asking!

    What really bothered me about the AOC’s approach today is that it seems to be consistent with their ongoing attitude and self-assessment of them being “above the law” because they are “part and parcel with the law”. They really went the extra mile to attempt to lay down that perception and connection, much akin to a company arguing the existence of the corporate veil as a defense. (Yea, the AOC hides under the coats of the “judiciary” once again? You decide!)

    While I don’t discount or undervalue the goal of what the AOC is trying to accomplish in “theory”, the methods utilized in their attempt to reach this admirable target are inappropriate in numerous, and almost countless, ways.

    As is often the case, the largest part of any iceberg is not the portion you see. What better motivation than fear of discovery would the AOC have to “bring out the Darth Vader protective droid troops” in an attempt to cover-up the larger portion of the iceberg? That, in and of itself, speaks volumes as to what truly lies below the surface.

    Based on my observation of AOC’s testimony, the price tag of that illusive target seems to be an unknown factor. However, more importantly, at least for me, personally, watching the AOC testify was extremely painful for an assortment of other reasons.

    I kept asking myself if the left hand had any idea what the right hand was doing….or what it had done or even what it might do in the future!? Who is in charge here? Anybody? Anybody know? You sure couldn’t tell the answers to these rhetorical questions by the way they would look at each other in search of the answers to the questions they were being asked. (Did you see the look on their faces and their body language!??) Answers they are personally and professionally responsible for having and, yet, they don’t!! (And to think they are paid dearly for that “public service”??? UGH!)

    In one case, even three separate AOC witnesses didn’t get the job done of providing an answer to one single question! In another question and answer series, the question was initially answered by AOC without much delay, then a second AOC person spoke up with related information that contradicted the initial answer given by AOC storm trooper #1 and, so, in essence the question was, in reality, left unanswered and buried in fog. Confused yet? AOC hopes so! It’s key to their survival to continue operating as they have in the past!

    Think about it. Some of the answers given at that hearing wouldn’t come close to being sufficient for a witness taking the stand under oath in any US Court in any jurisdiction! So why should it be sufficient here? It shouldn’t be! Why does the AOC operate on an assumption of birth-right allowance of double standards?

    It’s time for that to stop! It’s time to take the silver spoon out of the AOC’s mouth! Responsibility and accountability? Not at the AOC! The word “chaos” comes to mind!

    And to think that this kind of “management” style goes on inside the AOC on a regular day to day basis! (Remember the tip of the iceberg, folks!) Based on my personal knowledge and experience, I sincerely feel for the truly righteous rank and file employees that have to deal with the monumental challenges this chaos creates in their work environment. When there is such a bold lack of accountability and responsibility, there is also a lack of direction given to those that rely on said leadership. Wishy-washy answers? Inefficiency? Avoidance of the real issues at hand? What you witnessed at the hearing is the illustrative-tip-of-the-iceberg of what goes on behind the “closed doors” at the AOC!

    I’d like to see a show of hands as to how many of you fine people would trust the AOC with your own household budget!? Scary thought and, yet, in a manner of speaking, we are already doing that, even if indirectly.

    If the AOC were a public corporation (I’ll resist expounding on the “public” part of that statement for I’m sure you can fill in the association there!), based on their performance thus far, the shareholders would have not only ousted the CEO already (and possibly upper management, too?), but you would probably also be watching the story on the news!

    Might I kindly suggest retirement at this stage for Mr. Vickrey? Perhaps a few others, too?

    Once the national media gets wind of this situation, especially as the facts are slowly uncovered as the digging continues, hang on to your seats folks!

    Additionally, for those of us who know the facts surrounding any given specific subject they might have been discussing at the hearing, it was more than clear that they were attempting to confuse the issue by tossing “bullshit” out on the table. They are accustom to doing this because, remember dear readers, they aren’t normally put in a position whereby they might be questioned. Their motto: Confuse them with bullshit, if you don’t have a viable, credible answer or you don’t even understand it, yourself! (Dive deeper into this & you will find there is MUCH truth to that last statement!!)

    In some cases, the AOC really doesn’t know what the hell they are doing, and to make matters worse, they mistakenly rely on others who, sadly, aren’t qualified to fill those positions! The AOC bases many of their in-house decisions regarding numerous important projects via listening to bad advice and disregarding good advice, and do so without reason or logic! WHY?? It doesn’t make sense to me, so I keep finding myself asking who or how many on the inside is/are on the take!??

    Important question: Why would this agency make decisions that result in increased costs and reduced efficiency when alternative options are available that would reap cost savings and efficiency boosting outcomes? End results don’t lie! The current state of affairs speaks truth!

    As to AOC’s testimony at the hearing, why couldn’t they give clear, concise answers that might be easily understood without the need for a bunch of follow-up probing questions and inquiries, all done merely in an attempt to get the answer first asked of them?? Do they even know the answers? Are they afraid of revealing the answers? Is this truly incompetence or is it a cover-up situation? A little of both, perhaps?

    A couple of illustrations:

    1) The software fiasco. What truly is the problem here? What would cause such an outrageous expense in combination with such a delayed deployment and implementation? (I suspect that even Bill Gates’ A-team would have cost far less, no? And, it would undoubtedly be up and running as we speak!)

    Such poor, poor planning, both in the past and even for the future! Is someone on the inside benefiting from such inefficiency? Conflict of interest issues that cause inappropriate decisions to be made, you think? Or, is it purely incompetence at the highest level!?

    Perhaps this is another situation where the AOC has no clue as to what they are doing and, as a result, some outside so-called “expert” is milking the state of affairs to their advantage? Of course, the AOC would be none the wiser (and fumbling around, like they did at the hearing?) because it’s all over their heads!?

    Perhaps that is why they had difficulty answering questions revolving around this subject matter? Who does the AOC rely on in that regard? And, more importantly, before making that ultimate reliance decision, either initially or on an going basis, what factors do they base their decision on? (Surely, they conduct some type of analysis feasibility study first and, probably, pay an arm and a leg for it, too!? It would also seem that performance should somehow play into their decisions but the historical evidence doesn’t support that proposition!)

    As was testified, even with an accompanying offer for free programming, the AOC seems to be making a mountain out of a molehill on this software issue because of their ignorance, their approach and lack of planning on the whole subject matter! And at great cost and inconvenience to the taxpayers! Ask
    around and you will find this is true! There are many other people out there who are well aware that this software situation has transpired without justification. Knock, knock! Hello? Anybody home at the AOC? It’s past time to wake up!

    or

    2) Let’s look at a more simplified question that, apparently, even they don’t know what their answer is “suppose to be” (whoops…someone missed “coaching class”) and, thus, in essence, we never really did get a firm answer, because the 2 responses seemed pretty conflicting to me!

    “Does the AOC take the position that they are exempt from the whistle-blower protection laws of the State of California?” (The same laws that should cover every employee in this state, no?)

    Seems like a simple enough question, don’t you think? Apparently not, for I’m still not sure what the AOC’s official answer was on that one! (Anyone here know for sure? Yea, I’m a bit curious as to how the AOC believes they are “above the law” yet again!) Anyhow, first, they say they are not exempt. Then, they follow that up by changing their answer to say they have their own internal system that should be utilized by all of their employees.

    Which is it, AOC? Make up your mind! Oh, wait, we can’t allow the AOC to clear the fog on that particular subject, and especially *NOT* at this point in time, for it might encourage too many leaks of ghosts in the closet, eh? Not only does the AOC *not* give a straight answer on this simple question….or seem to know (or what to acknowledge?) what the right answer might be, but they apparently believe it’s okay for the fox to watch the hen house when it pertains to them, when its not acceptable for other employers within the State of California. This sure reeks of oppression to me!

    Does this double-standard sound familiar? See a consistency here on how their policies and procedures encourage isolation and insulation because they believe they are above being questioned or scrutinized…whether it deals with line-by-line expense accounting that other agencies perform
    as a normal course of business, or any other issue? (Again, a final reminder of the tip of the iceberg, folks! There are many “pieces” out there, and it’s just a matter of the puzzle being put together!)

    Appropriate current AOC management? I don’t think so….and like any organization, the leadership behavioral mentality definitely trickles down among the various levels to set the tone. If you were to ask the employees (and they could speak honestly & openly without fear), you would learn so very much. So much that it would put the existing known information, as important as it might be, onto the back burner, although it wouldn’t change the premise that change is overdue and accountability is essential.

    Sadly, the AOC’s behavior and conduct, in my humble opinion and based on the information I am privy to, has been less than admirable. Despicable, actually. It is only human to make mistakes, yes. However, to attempt to justify and cover-up those mistakes in an effort to continue the same course of action, instead of making corrections and adjustments is much, much worse than the initial mistakes!!

    Many fear we may never know the full spectrum of this situation, but I think otherwise because I believe in “THE FORCE” (going with your theme here!)….of good prevailing over evil, and that people genuinely desire to do the right thing. However, the pieces *MUST* be put together, first!

    The time bomb the AOC is holding in their guilty hands is tick, tick, ticking…..and I’m keeping a close eye on my watch! (And on the AOC Watcher, too!)

    P.S. A special thanks to the AOC Watcher for setting up this site for it is serving as an important instrument of communication and compilation and sharing of vital information, an outlet in support of AOC accountability and transparency that has not been provided elsewhere, unfortunately. It is my hope that the committee investigating the AOC will change that but it takes contribution from many sources. I do hope folks will continue to step forward with information in that regard, as they seem to be doing!

    P.S.S. “Rumor” has it that this hearing will not be the last, btw.

  4. I was glad to see the AOC put to the fire yesterday. I wouldn’t be surprised to one day see a bunch of AOC stiffs in handcuffs with corruption charges.

    That said, the only hacks worse than the hacks in the AOC are those hacks in Sacramento talking to the AOC. Just because they are looking at AOC’s waste doesnt mean they would take that money and give it back to the courts.

    They are probably looking for money for their little pet projects and they see that AOC is a big waste and has money.

  5. Investigate away!

    LPCClerkIII,

    You will witness your wish come to fruition.

    The legislative committee isn’t the only body with the authority over the AOC. Both the U.S. Attorney and private attorneys who are sharp enough to make the connections can move forward on their own complaints and take he issue of transparency and accountability through the federal court system. The AOC handed a sharp legal firm a proverbial goldmine victory in federal court yesterday. Let’s see which firm acts upon it first.

  6. Shrill uninformed critic

    A couple of points:

    1. It was interesting to watch the reaction of the justices and judges on the panel who sat there as the AOC was unable to tell the committee how much the system was going to cost.
    They seemed to be pretty uncomfortable. It had to be somewhat embarrassing for them for their counterparts in the legislature to ask questions of staff that could not be answered. I hope that experience causes all of the JC members to take a closer look and ask a few more questions the next time the AOC recommends approval of a CCMS related expenditure.

    2. Let’s all agree that CCMS is a great system. That way the discussion can be focused and it will not be necessary to have the parade of AOC shills we saw yesterday. Not one of them was able to address the much larger policy issues that are implicated; costs, savings, funding, priorities, project planning (or lack thereof). The fact CCMS is a good system (a point I am conceding for this argument only), does not justify the lack of planning and management or the expenditure of over a billion dollars, particularly at the expense of trial court operations.

    Has the quality of justice in California improved over the last 10 years? I would say yes and the AOC deserves credit for much of that improvement. However, the fact that some AOC sponsored programs have been beneficial, is irrelvant to the CCMS issue. Just because some AOC ideas made sense, doesn’t meand they all do. The CCMS project needs to be fully evaluated on its own merits.

    3. What seems to be lost in all of this is the fact that when the whole statewide technology/CCMS program began the justification was that there were courts using outdated technology systems and they needed new ones. Eight years and $400 million dollars later, those needs still exist. Even if V-4 were ready today (which it is not and may never be) the AOC/courts lack the funding to implement the system. The lack of funding is not the result of the economy or the state budget crisis. It is the result of tragically poor planning. All along the AOC was betting the legislature would buy the argument that since so much money had been spent on the system, the investment would be lost if the legislature and the courts didn’t come up with the money for deployment.

    While I wish the committee would have dug deeper, it was a start. It will be interesting to see what the AOC reaction is or will be.

    Respectfully submitted,

    A Shrill and Uninformed Critic

  7. What a fiasco! Two minutes allocated to those who have complaints about AOC leadership, while the majority of those who supported Bill were allowed to go on and on.

    A friend of mine who formerly worked for the FBI sat and watched the AOC fiasco with me. He and I focused on Bill (Vickrey). My friend worked for the FBI as a body language specialist.

    His observations of Bill were:

    1. During the majority of the time Bill spoke, either he folded his arms, clasped his hands together, or shuffled papers. When he boldly lied and said the AOC was covered by the Whistleblowers Protection Act and then pretended not to know for sure, my friend said his pretense at not knowing was a dead give away to either deliberate avoidance of the truth or ignorance of his own agency. Anyone in Bill’s position would know about whether the agency for which he is responsible is or is not covered by such an act. My friend’s opinion is that Bill was intentionally misleading the committee. After all, there are signs about the AOC not being subject to the provisions of that act in almost every break room in the AOC. Even John Judnick could tell you that, as he personally told me some years ago.

    2. When Bill spoke about the embezzlement case, my friend was astounded. My friend’s words, “Any idiot in that man’s (Bill’s) position would know they should not have responded as Bill did.” I recall Bill said, “That case was referred to the appropriate authorities but the authorities declined to prosecute.” My friend said it was at this point that Bill was under so much pressure that he simply blabbed that out in an attempt to blame others for something he should have ensured could not occur. My question, “Why is Ernie still working at the AOC under the circumstances?” The state legislators should look deeply into this case, including why the authorities failed to prosecute.

    3. My friend also told me that Bill’s evasive behavior fits the liar’s profile because it is apparent to him that Bill has mastered the art of talking for hours without really saying anything. When he finally shuts up the majority of those listening believe that he has, in fact, supplied them with a perfectly sane answer to their questions. I noticed that the first year I attended the All Staff meeting some years ago.

    4. Overall, my friend said his opinion is that Bill has a lot to hide and is shaking in his boots at the prospect of a fully independent audit that the state legislature is obliged to ensure that it takes place.

    I say that if the state legislatures seriously accept their responsibility to the taxpayers they will ensure the AOC’s financial transactions over the past ten years through present undergo a stringent audit by auditors outside of the AOC and the State of California.

    I described to my friend bonus checks that I saw issued when I first began working for the AOC years ago. I told my friend that I was surprised because I did not know a public entity could issue “bonus” checks to employees in any form other than that which the IRS has identified as salaried income. I wonder how many of those checks have been issued to upper management or self-issued and in what amounts. I also wonder what line item those issuances were reported in the budgetary tracking process. Did I hear someone say check for a second set of books or a secret payroll?

    In closing, my friend also told me that someone should pull the sleeves of the IRS about looking into the spending and style-of-living habits engaged in by Bill and those who immediately surround him.

  8. The lack of whistleblower protection is a problem. If there were protection, more would be said and with more detail.

    Is there a way to contact the legislators on the committee? In particular, the couple of legislators who were asking the pointed questions.

  9. If you’d like to contact the legislators, I’m sure they’d be happy to hear from you.

    The website for the committee is

    http://www.assembly.ca.gov/acs/newcomframeset.asp?committee=423

  10. As the budget director indicated and which Bill agreed would happen, Fall 2010 the CCMS will be up and running. If anyone believes this after years and years and millions of dollars spent so far they are very easily duped.

    Either way, if the AOC delivers as promised someone, maybe state legislators, should find out why this project has stalled for years thus far. But will they?

    Can you believe Fall 2010? Do not hold your breathe!

  11. AOCWatcher, forgive my ignorance and caution, there were two legislators, a male and a female who asked hard questions. I did not get their names. These are two I would like to contact.

  12. Investigate away!

    Mark.Martin@asm.ca.gov used to be a political reporter for the chronicle’s sacramento office.

    His team is the focal point for the communications between us citizens / court employees / AOC employees. If you have information – he is your best bet.

  13. Dan Goldstein

    Shouln’t the title read “The Alliance Strikes Back”

  14. I believe Judge Goldstein the title you’re thinking of would be “Return of the Alliance.” Coming to this blog soon.

  15. Pattyjane Smith

    NMRN: the two legislators you asked about are Assembly Members Audra Strickland and Nathan Fletcher from Ventura and San Diego, respectively.

  16. Could someone please enlighten me as to what the AOC is relying on to support their position that they are exempt from the whistleblower protection laws? The laws that I see do not support that stance.

    Whistleblower protection is the key to the locked door concealing a vast amount of information necessary to move forward with a thorough investigation of the AOC on all levels.

    In part, the lack of whistleblower protection explains how the AOC has been able to hide things thus far.

  17. To use military language, the AOC is currently FUBAR. Imagine you work for a company with close to a 1000 employees and the day after things go bad for y0ur organization — and anyone with an IQ higher than Michael D. Brown clearly knows this — nothing is communicated. This is shameful and embarrassing.

    Because a lame whistle blower “procedure” was put in place AFTER management turned a blind eye to common and serious documented problems (such as embezzlement and harassment and improper employment practices), the AOC is now clearly and extremely vulnerable. It has been exposed to voluminous litigation that will unfortunately aid and abet the clogging of our state courts.

    As a member, I can tell you management is and should be scared sh@tless. Until
    AOC employees see and believe that there are adequate protections in place, and that grievances will be and are properly handled, go ahead and anonymously post information here. Government workers are protected if they report misuse of funds, even if it’s on an Internet blog. And if you are a current or past employee who can corroborate a serious allegation that no one seems to be taking seriously (such as the facts surrounding the basis for a $100 million no-bid sole source contract), please send it to the Assembly committee.

  18. truth will prevail

    AOC’s in-house employee complaint and abuse reporting policy is merely a front, and serves no real meaningful purpose other than to quash information that might leak to the outside world.

    To illustrate the truth in this statement, one only needs to look at the history of any employee complaints or reports filed with the audit department. A thorough independent audit of their in-house employee complaint system should be required by the committee.

    An immediate emergency outlet must be provided to the AOC employees to insure the protection they are being denied, if the committee ever expects to accumulate information necessary in their investigation of the AOC.

  19. Patty Jane Smith

    Regarding Wednesday’s hearing, score this round as a victory for the Alliance.

  20. court folks have been observing Bill’s body language quite a bit lately. He certainly is no longer acting his old self assured, no notes ever needed at a meeting, confident self. Interesting observations by the former FBI guy. Even to the untrained eye however, it is clear that Bill is running scared and rightly so. But his ability to BS to a question to death, yet give no answer has been known for quite some time court regulars. Anyhoo, I want to thank the legislative committee for having the hearing. I hope they keep up the scrutiny. Paraphrasing Deep Throat, if you just keep digging its there…you’ve just got to keep digging. Most of all kudos to those brave former and existing AOC staff that are risking providing vital information to the press and this committe and of course, this blog. Thank you AOC Watcher! It is too bad it has to come to this but I guess one cannot avoid karma, and I agree that this dissention and “shrillness” will not go away this time. Also Lord whathisname said what? “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely…
    I’ll say it again. The Judicial Council and policy making for the branch needs to be a diplomatic process.

  21. I note some comments puzzling over the disconnect between various speakers. That is because none of them have any understanding of the technology involved. They were not looking at the same thing, but didn’t realize it. I was the commenter who writes the computer technology column and who offered to help with a demonstration of what could be done, for far less money. The fundamental underlying problem here is that none of the AOC personnel have any substantial computer software knowledge.