Justice George Thinks AOC Critics Are Shrill and Uninformed

I have to give it to Justice George.  When faced with criticism about the AOC’s management of the state courts and its handling of budget cuts by closing courts that have resulted in deprived public services, furloughs, and layoffs, the best response that Justice George could come up with for critics of their grand plan is to go on the attack and label the AOC critics as shrill and uninformed.

In this morning’s Sacramento Bee the paper covers the battle between the AOC and its detractors.  One of the most interesting comments in the article were by King Justice George himself.

“Much of the loudest, much of the shrillest criticism – and I’m being charitable here – are from people who aren’t fully informed,” George said. “A lot of this is an effort to dismantle the statewide administration of justice because with the statewide administration of justice comes accountability.”

I’m sorry.  Accountability?  I cannot believe that Justice George uses that word when he is the leader of an agency that has fought tooth and nail to prevent people from seeing its books and has done everything in its power to prevent transparency.  This is an agency that has fostered a management style in which sychophancy, vindictiveness, nepotism, and incompetence seems to be requirements for people to move up the ladder.  This is also an agency that funnels millions of dollars into a software program that will cost the state $2 billion dollars and possibly more.  This is an agency that says that they are “serving the courts for the benefit of all Californians” when they’ve slammed the doors shut in the public’s face, which is not a benefit for Californians, and would rather fund computer software but deprive counties of the funds needed to maintain and hire staff to run their computer software.  How is that serving the courts?

Justice George, I agree with you that with the “administration of justice comes accountability.”  But I definitely disagree that your AOC has shown any justice in its administration of the courts or accountability to the people your agency claims to serve.

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16 responses to “Justice George Thinks AOC Critics Are Shrill and Uninformed

  1. Justice Incredulous

    The Chief would be better off acknowledging that there have been serious problems and that he too wants answers. The second that you start calling reasonable people “shrill” means you are separating yourself and you have lost touch (or worse, that you believe whaever story has been fed to you by your staff).

  2. justinianscode

    Here’s another perspective on shrillness:

    The Chief Justice is quoted in this morning’s newspaper as saying, “Much of the loudest, much of the shrillest criticism – and I’m being charitable here – are from people who aren’t fully informed”

    Last Summer he was on tape at a Judicial Council meeting saying, “much of the most vocal opposition to court closures in the name of access to justice has come from persons who in the past have shown little or no interest in our efforts to maintain and increase access to justice, so one might question whether these concerns are totally genuine, or reflect instead perhaps some personal concern about the implications – financial and otherwise – to oneself from closures and from the pressure to engage in voluntary furloughs for one day a month”

    And the AOC’s own magazine, California Courts Review (Spring 2006) noted another interesting statement from the Chief Justice: “Even some of his supporters were dismayed when the Chief Justice told a 2003 gathering of the California Judges Association – an organization he had headed 20 years earlier – that any attempt to democratize selection of Judicial Council members and reduce his appointment power would be considered a ‘declaration of war.’ George … has said that his remark had its intended effect.”

    Is shrill in the eye of the beholder?

  3. OMG! The audacity of the Chief and Mr. O is amazing. (But then again they are fighting for their livelyhood here, so what else can we expect?) To say that those that dissent from the AOC’s view are at best missinformed is amazing. George is saying that hundreds of judges, many court executives, managers and staff are all stupid? That they all essentially begged the AOC to take over? Pleezzee! George is re-writing history as he speaks! I think the Chief would be wise to knock this off and rein in his minions. Who knows? Maybe the public and all of the employees/judges of the courts (and that is a lot of people if you count their families and friends) will get tired of this nonsense and send a message: initiating the recall of the Chief and his other yes men on the Judicial Council, namely Huffman, Baxter, and Ming. Hey if the voters can do it to the Rose Bird court and Gray Davis….who knows? Remember Chief, you are an elected offical…not king. Quit listening to your staff and listen to the voters when it comes to administering the courts and their budget which, is after all, the tapayers dollars.

  4. On October 9th the Chief was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

    He gave the opinion that California is dysfunctional and lacks accountability because of the the way the citizens can change the law, whether given to us by the Legislature or the Supreme Court, by the ballot process.

    One has to wonder if it is proper for a sitting judge to give such opinions in public.

  5. The CJ is correct in ways unintentional. True, the public is sorely ignorant of the fact that all that extra work the AOC cites as justification for a ballooning bureaucracy is “work” that the JC/AOC actively lobbied for in Sacramento as part of a strategy to centralize power over the courts. As the CJ repeatedly reminds us in referring to the rules governing the leadership of the Judicial Branch, “this is not a democracy”. Yesterday’s accountability hearings in Sacramento made that all too plain. What an embarrassment, the AOC’s performace. All those heavy hitters, and nary a straight answer between them.

  6. I guess the Sacbee and the Legislature need to be added to Ron George’s list of the “shrill and uninformed.” Both are now aware of the misfeasance at the AOC and at the Judicial Council and both are speaking up. Not only are there now articles in the Bee and other papers, the Bee has editorialized on the problems and calls finally for action.

    Perhaps now others will stop listening to George’s tired stories or touring the 58 courts, his days as a trial judge and doing the Hillside Strangler case, his meetings with the Governors who encourgaged him to go forward (note none has ever confirmed his stoires), his many awards dinners where he was feted for his “forward thinking,” and his endless birthday parties and anniversaries with forced attendance (paid for with taxpayer money.) (Shall we also ask about the Chief’s private slush fund/foundation?)

    Perhaps someday the lackies around him will finally be shown for what they are: sycophants in it for the glory of remaining in the good graces of the King.

    George’s attack on the those that criticize is possitivly pathetic. Let’s all hope the bravery of the employees of the AOC, the employees of the trial courts and the few brave judges around the state grows. There is now hope for a new beginning. Keep up the good work all!

  7. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    The CJ and other justices are bound by the democratic process of ratification at 12 year intervals.

    It’s the voters way of affirming that they’ve acted in the best interests of the people of the State of California.

  8. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    If my calculations are correct our CJ was elected by the voters on November 3, 1998 and that means he is up for re-election next year.

  9. Obi-Wan is right, the CJ stands for retention election in November 2010. He is a good man whose reputation AOC executives may have damaged with CCMS and other blunders.

    As for that AOC “slush fund”, the one Pacwest mentions, the one that pays for all those JC cocktail parties, the CJ should be aware that rumors are circulating about his links to the family that funds it.

    Have to agree with Pacwest one more time: those stories about the CJ visiting the 58 trial courts, they’ve gotten way boring. Didn’t that all happened over ten years ago?

  10. JoshMadisson: Those of us who have been in politics know that no one in their right mind would enter a campaign cycle when embarassments and illegal activity could be imminently identified. I have a feeling that things may move faster than people think.

    The readership of this blog includes judges, and gasp, legislators who went to law school.

  11. Chief Justice Ron George is a smart man and good judge but here he is wading in an area where he does not have the expertise required. He admits publicly to not being highly tech savvy. Thus, as head of the Judicial Council, he depends on staff (the AOC) for advice on such matters. The problem is they gave him bad advice on this matter. He relied on it, not realizing it was bad. So we got a bad result. If he gets better advice and relies on that, we may see a better result.

  12. Mr. Power:

    A few questions for you.

    I found your comments at the hearing very interesting. I am not a tech person. However, my problem with CCMS is related to technology as it does not appear anyone ever seriously analyzed what type of technology and functionality was really necessary.

    I was surprised when I heard Ms. Calabro explain to the committee how the system morphed from a system that would cover two case types for several large courts to a system that would cover all case types in all courts. In what might be an understatement, her approach does not seem to be consistent with good project managment principles. Would you agree?

    Would you have expected to see a project plan amendment or updated budget, with detail, each time the AOC decided to amend the SOW?

    Another pro/CCMS speaker said he didn’t think a commercial case managment system vendor would even bid the project. Do you have any idea of whether this is accurate? These companies are in the business of designing and building systems specifically for courts. All courts perform basically the same functions, calendaring, docketing, receipting, disbursments, etc. E-filing is certainly nothing new and the federal courts and other states are way ahead already with this technology. Since these vendors had already designed systems, it seems like the AOC could have saved $400 million if they would have gone with software vendor. Is this true?? It would cost money to configure the system for California at both the statewide and local level, but that would be a cost regardless of whether CCMS or a commerical system is deployed. Any idea what it would cost to use a vendor?

    Has anyone ever identified the functions of CCMS that justify the $1.3 billion plus price tag? “Venue transparency”??? Is the ability for a judge to see a file in another court really worth a billion dollars? With the exception of DV cases, how often is it necessary for a judge to see pleadings or orders from another county? I am sure it would be convenient, but at what cost for convenience?

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to establish standards a system needs to meet for use in California and see if a vendor is willing to meet those standards for functionality?

    While some of the questions sound rhetorical, I am trying to understand how a computer system could cost this much and whether other less expensive alternatives exist (or existed).

  13. Moneywatcher,
    I was also somewhat surprised by Ms. Calabro’s comments but I guess I was not all that surprised that it appeared she was not well-versed on technology. It’s not necessarily bad to have software start small and grow by adding features. That’s actually fairly common. I’ve done it too. But the cost of this project has never been justifiable. The AOC is simply in way over their heads because they don’t have much technology knowledge.

    E-filing is really no big deal. I could set up e-filing very quickly but it would required submitters to use a common word processor to make it work really well. It could then allow integration of the electronic documents into a case record which could be easily assembled and be fully searchable.

    As for vendors bidding on something, in the past these IT projects have been little more than ways for vendors to take money from gullible government officials who have little technology knowledge. I doubt that previously designed systems would be an awful lot of help since the target here is primarily court calendaring and keeping records on filed documents and case dispositions. That is different than what has been done elsewhere, except perhaps to some extent with PACER.

    It would certainly make sense to have vendors submit prototypes to match general functionality needs. There is no logical reason to spend $400 Million and have little to show for it. The basic software could be written for a million or less, very likely. Then it’s just up to the courts to set up the hardware and basic productivity software. A good approach should cost only a tiny fraction of what has been contemplated here. Ongoing maintenance costs should be minimal.

    As for why these systems cost so much currently, it’s due to a combination of lobbying, ignorance, stubborness, and maybe some other factors. If I set up a system for creating such software, it would provide that no money be paid until the system actually worked, at least at a prototype stage, and the total bill certainly wouldn’t be paid until the whole thing worked.

  14. Moneywatcher,
    A couple of additional comments. As to what judges would like to have, I have heard different views. Some say they don’t need the extra info; others say it’s invaluable. In any case, the current state of technology is such that information on virtually all criminal cases in California could fairly easily be made available at minimal cost, assuming a cooperative effort by all the courts. The centralized dissemination approach on the fly from a single server or server farm makes little sense. There are better approaches that take into account peak load problems with servers and pipeline load problems.

    It is possible to make data cross-accessible for criminal and domestic violence cases among all the interested agencies but it would require common formatting, a subject which was never discussed at the hearing.

  15. Mr. Power

    Thanks for the information and answers. I suppose there are some benefits of shared services, but if I was a local court, I would be concerned if the server went down, which I am sure would happen occasionally. The whole state court system would shut down.

    As to DV orders, it sounded to me like the CLETS system is available to courts already, it is just that there is a data entry backlog. Why not make the exisiting system work rather than create a new one?

    With respect to vendors I found some through a Google search which seem to provide the functionality courts need with an “off the shelf” product – ACS, Sustain Technology, Tyler Technology, Courtview Justice Solutions, etc. All of those companies appear to provide calendaring, accounting, docketing, etc. features.

    Your input is very helpful.

  16. Moneywatcher, your concern about the whole court system going down is well-founded. I would never set up a system that way, but the AOC might.

    The CLETS system is extremely old. It was written with something like COBOL. I first saw it in operation perhaps 30 years ago. It is not capable of providing the same kind of assistance that modern technology could provide. Without seeing the other systems you have mentioned, I couldn’t comment intelligently on them. I also don’t know their cost.

    One thing to bear in mind is that with current technology, it would be possible to provide excellent data sharing at very minimal cost.

    I can’t say where all this is going but in light of past state IT boondoggles I wouldn’t count on this situation getting better fast. This state seems hell bent on spending itself into oblivion and there is an enormous amount of lobbying going on to keep the gravy train rolling for vendors who have been getting paid hundreds of times as much as things should cost.