Judicial Wars: Alliance of California Judges Request Financial Records

return_of_the_jedi_ver1If the AOC and its army of supporters thought they got the upper hand at last month’s legislative committee hearing, they might want to think again. In fact, a letter sent by the Alliance of California Judges to the AOC requesting financial records makes it clear that the AOC will continue to face opposition to its current management of California Courts.

The letter sent to Camilla Kieliger of the Judicial Council/AOC lays out the group’s belief that the AOC has lost its way during the state’s budget crisis and also explains how the AOC’s mishandling of court affairs has fostered an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion in the AOC and perhaps the judiciary branch.

In conclusion, the letter goes on to request that the AOC make public its financial records in regards to the amount of funds in the reserve and trust fund accounts.

In this regard, we request that the Judicial Council and the AOC advise us, and immediately make public, the total amount of all reserve or trust funds currently held for these purposes (identifying each specific fund), and to make public the currently expected revenue amounts and revenue sources for these purposes through the 2013- 2014 fiscal year. In this way meaningful debate may be had in the public eye as to how public dollars may best be spent upon our court system in the current crisis.

You can read the letter in its entirety after the jump.

Ms. Camilla Kieliger
Judicial Council
455 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

Re: Public Access to Judicial Administrative Records

Dear Ms. Kieliger:

We are the executive board members of a new organization of California judges. On September 11, 2009, a group met in San Diego (coincident with the annual conference of the California Judges Association) and formed a new state-wide, voluntary judges association called the Alliance of California Judges (ACJ). The membership of this group is growing. The organization s primary focus is to provide an additional voice for judges at this time of crisis for our court system. We exist now primarily to promote county trial court autonomy, local participation in court budgeting decisions, the rescission of court closures, and public transparency in the area of court financing and administration.

The 58 county court system in California is mandated by law. The independence of the judiciary, the integrity of common law process, and the legitimate rule of law, depend upon a vital, diverse judiciary, in which each constitutional superior court judge is empowered with independent decision-making authority, and administratively supported in that decision-making process by fully funded local court sessions.

The primacy of the county court system has been pressured over the last ten years by the perceived need for central state funding of the courts, and state ownership of facilities, which has now been legally mandated. This financial issue has lead to the evolution of centralized management of the system by the administrative arm of the California Judicial Council, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), which has seen incredible growth in size, power, and influence since 1998. As the AOC has grown, there has been a growing concern among judges that the AOC, as an organization, has perceived its role as one of control of the county court system, rather than its envisioned role of assistance to county court management (management which is legally vested in each county superior court).

California now faces a catastrophic public services funding crisis, due particularly to structural dysfunction in revenue procurement versus demand. For the first time, this budget failure has resulted in a legislative mandate for court closures, requested by the Judicial Council, the AOC, and approved by the Legislature. The budget prospects show no signs of improving, and are actually projected to substantially worsen over the next few years, since the 2009- 2010 budget solutions involved many one-time only corrections. Judges are deeply worried that the Judicial Branch cannot and should not be treated simply as some sort of executive agency of the state, but must be respected as a fully independent third arm of government. As other institutions fail, the demands upon the courts correspondingly increase. Shutting off court access in a time of crisis fundamentally threatens the rule of law upon which a just society depends.

There is a substantial sentiment among the judges of this state that the AOC has addressed the current budget crisis by acting to preserve itself as an institution for management and control of the courts, rather than prioritizing the county court operations it was designed to serve. This worry has been fueled by the AOC s preservation of an overwhelmingly expensive information system that many believe has not been effectively vetted, the AOC s maintenance of undisclosed millions in court facility funds, and the AOC s continued hiring of employees when county courts have been forced into lay offs, furloughs, and hiring freezes. The estimated cost of the information system (CCMS) has grown over $500 million within the last 30 days, according to the AOC s own figures. This conduct has the appearance to many of maintaining functions that enhance AOC management, rather than devoting all possible resources to trial court funding. There is concern that the AOC is preferring central management and control, computers, bricks, and mortar over people and judicial access.

Latent worries and suspicions have now erupted into media demands for audit and accountability of the AOC, and demands from the other branches of government for disclosure. There is a grave danger in this atmosphere, because essential separation of powers demands that the Judiciary itself respond, rather than abdicating to Executive or Legislative scrutiny.

The ACJ supports the proposed rule changes for Public Access to Judicial Administrative Records to the extent that they ensure full public disclosure of all financial information of the judiciary, and information regarding judiciary budgeting and expenditures, and to the extent it requires disclosure of attendant administrative information related to judiciary finances and administration. We ask that there be no deliberative process exception applied to financial or administrative functions. The ACJ strongly opposes any rule of disclosure that would open judicial decision-making to public disclosure in any cases and controversies, or private judicial communications.

As to any audits, we hope that full public disclosure of current financial information will lessen the immediate need and the demand for such measures. It is obvious that the state financial crisis is not a one-year event, and that we must rescind court closures and ensure continued operations as much as possible from existing funds and revenue sources outside of the state General Fund. Hope for an increased share of general fund revenues is likely illusory. It seems clear that keeping our courts open will require the very painful choice of obtaining legislative permission to further apply capital reserve trust funds set aside for facilities and information systems, as well as the administrative operational funds otherwise applied to those programs, and divert such funding to local operations. The total existing amount of these funds is not immediately apparent in the AOC s public documents.

In this regard, we request that the Judicial Council and the AOC advise us, and immediately make public, the total amount of all reserve or trust funds currently held for these purposes (identifying each specific fund), and to make public the currently expected revenue amounts and revenue sources for these purposes through the 2013- 2014 fiscal year. In this way meaningful debate may be had in the public eye as to how public dollars may best be spent upon our court system in the current crisis.

Very truly yours,

Mark R. Forcum Maryanne Gilliard
Daniel B. Goldstein Dodie A. Harmon
Thomas E. Hollenhorst Charles Horan
David R. Lampe Loren E. McMaster
Lisa Schall

cc: Members of the Judicial Council

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34 responses to “Judicial Wars: Alliance of California Judges Request Financial Records

  1. Jacques-Yves Cousteau

    I am more than concerned to hear about lower level employees being put in the line of fire regarding case management computer system cost analysis, public information, trust fund monies, or addressing public and court audiences. Might I suggest the AOC designate a high level employee such as a general counsel or PIO to respond to these complex inquiries?

  2. I might also suggest that someone in OGC evaluate whether a blog that could be maintained by or promoted by individuals that might range from current or potential litigants, members of the branch, members of an alliance (probably a nonprofit membership organization) is anything that an AOC employee (past or present) can safely post on. What’s the frequency Kenneth?

  3. PattyJaneSmith

    I think the appropriate person to make information requests to is Bob Fleishman. If he refuses the information then he is the accountable person and not lower level staff who are simply doing their jobs as directed by the AOC bosses.

    I believe Bob has already replied to this request and issued essentially the response everyone gets – the information is not accessible or simply doesn’t exist. This is the response even after last week’s Legislative hearing. Will they ever learn????

  4. Lady Lawyer, could you clarify what you mean in above posting? Are you concerned that it may not be safe or ethical for the parties you mention to post on this blog, or do you mean to propose an entirely new blog to be maintained by those parties?

  5. I think it’s worth looking at developing a coherent and clear policy for AOC employees regarding the blog. I have already seen it venture into territory where confidentiality could be compromised or misinterpretation can take place.

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      Freedom of speech and the press is a first amendment right that’s not easily managed. In the modern age, there have been several precedent setting decisions that treat a website like they treat a newspaper.

      AOC employees have the right to post to such a blog in a manner that cannot be regulated if they follow a few basic principles that don’t run afoul of the federal laws that call for their exposure.

      All of the written word is subject to misinterpretation and this is why those that post should be careful when posting – so that such posts are not subject to misinterpretation and subsequent enforcement actions against either their employment or freedom. In my own case, I was unable to interpret a series of posts done by another. I questioned what I had read because what was typed was unclear.

      Any employees working anywhere in America do not have the right of freedom of expression with respect to their employer. Your employer has the right to hold you responsible for your freedoms of expression if they are known to them and can be proved.

      Posts that lack coherency or credibility and are subject to misinterpretation, posts that seek to defame, threaten, harass or annoy a specific person can, in accordance with federal law, expose that employee to retribution from their employer. The risk becomes even greater if said employee makes a submittal under their own name.

      The judicial branch’s computer usage policy does not extend to events beyond the professional use of judicial branch resources.

      Introduced with the abacus and largely forgotten since then, the computer use policy that goes virtually unenforced is, at best, subject to selective enforcement.

      While there exists a number of tools to prevent employees from visiting any number of sites or services at work, the judicial branch chooses only passive monitoring and bandwidth usage reports to determine if there is a possibility that the computer usage policy is being violated.

      Violations themselves are interpreted as being a violation in the eyes of a reviewer and serve as a strawman argument when they are selectively enforced. Some would argue viewing this site from work constitutes a violation of that policy and others would argue that posting to this site constitutes a violation of that policy. Some would argue that posting under your own name subjects you to enforcement. More yet might argue that the most that can ever happen is the selective enforcement of this policy as an issue of human resource management. That is to say, that when you wish to get rid of a person, you target their computer usage.

      Selective enforcement of a computer usage policy is one of the leading ways to terminate someones employment with little to no repurcussion. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the selective enforcement it can serve as a strawman argument that can enhance the liability of the employer.

      The computer use policy itself is a part of judicial branch policy and procedure, a document that does not begin to comport with the minimum requirements as specified by law and on its own amounts to the legal equivalent of swiss cheese.

      This is only my opinion. Your opinion and the opinions of others may vary.

  6. Lady Lawyer-
    Are you saying that AOC Employees are still not safe to post here because their identities might be exposed by the computer they are using? The Watcher once warned that if someone posts here that the AOC might stop at nothing to find out who those persons are? Is this still the case? Are they trying to track people down so that no more dirty secrets are revield? Is no one safe to post here even if they go to a coffee shop or public place? How far will the AOC go to uncover who is posting here? And what funding will they use to do that? More taxpayers money, to be sure.

    Maybe they can close the courts another day to pay for their witch hunt.

  7. Regarding PattyJaneSmith’s most recent post to this thread, as indicated on the Courtinfo website… information requests should be routed through the Courtinfo public information web portal/email at pubinfo@jud.ca.gov. Following receipt, requests are then referred to a subject matter expert for response. In the case of requests for financial information, Mr. Fleshman is the appropriate contact.

    As it pertains to the information request referenced above, a member of the Alliance (of California Judges) can confirm that no such response has been received.

  8. I think the Judge’s letter should have been directed to the Chief or Bill V. I agree that it should not have been sent to a staffer (however, you know that it will reach at least Bill before a response is sent). But I do applaud them for sending the letter and making the request. I hope when they receive the usual unacceptable AOC reply, they will turn both documents over to the press, so the lack of transparency, etc. will stay in the public awareness and the pressure will remain on the AOC. Not to mention that their new fiscal system, CARS does not work after all of the $$ spent on that and shoving it down local courts throats. If it did work as they say it does, they should be able to capture the requested information easily.

    In regards to AOC employees commenting on blogs: most folks recognize the risks of making their feelings known about their employers and what goes on at work on blogs, facebook, letters to the editor, etc. If not, they have not been on this planet for very long. Not to mention that at will employment status makes the risk/consequences of something being traced to you as the employee greater. However, since the AOC does not even know if staff is subject to whistleblower protections, how can they create a policy regarding blogs, etc. that would be consistent with existing law? Not to mention, is the AOC subject to the public records act or not? The AOC has been arguing to the local courts that even though the courts are not subject to the act, they should go ahead a devulge information anyway, in the spirit of cooperation. So if that is the case, are AOC documents and other information public record or not? So in essence by staff revealing AOC information or records on a blog or facebook or to the press are they simply just releasing public records or are they violating some type of work place confidentiality?

    Finally, don’t ask OGC, it will take at the minimum months to get a response. Not to bash the excellent lawyers working there but there is obviously quite some bueaucratic process within the AOC to get an opinion published, much less establish a policy!

  9. There is no such thing as confidentiality at the AOC. Oh, there is a lot of hiding, shreding, out-right not telling the truth going on, but no such thing as confidentiality. For the past ten years, I have personally experienced a continuous lack of confidentiality regarding some extremely personal situations.

    Under the current circumstances, anything that is supposed to be confidental suffered its demise when the current executive directors, HR Director and their co-horts became employed by the AOC.

    Leaks about certain information that should have been confidential have originated in the executive office and the human resources office.

    When staff beginning at the top level on down in those offices cannot be confidential how can anyone expect the employees to be confidential?

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      Agreed. There is no confidentiality at the AOC. Who is going to enforce the laws? The AOC is akin to the wild west and makes law up as they go along.

      They genuinely believe that being their own branch of goverment gives them immunity from…. everything and they would be mostly correct.

      No state agency will take any complaint if the AOC is the subject of said complaint. We’ve done considerable research on this.

      The AOC is immune to investigation, the AOC is immune to prosecution of most things that would be criminal in any other branch of government.

  10. Ahhh, silly me! how soon I forget! Mr. John Judnick the head of internal audits of the local courts, is right up there with not keeping things confidential. He LOVES to talk about what his auditors THINK they find at the courts, in a public forum, PRIOR to any investigation, documentation to support the accusation, or the court being allowed to respond to the charge! Go forth and blog AOC staff!

  11. The letter appears to be in response to the public commenting period that recently closed regarding the proposed Public Access Rules. It was addressed to Ms. Kieliger, who is the central point of contact for all invitations to comment. I do not believe that the request for information contained within is intended for her to act on other that to pass along.

  12. Another weak point in the AOC wall is John Judnick.

    Audit issues reports but they never see the light of day. Why? Because John claims everything is preliminary and he can’t release them until they’re “final.” Unfortunately the reports never become final.

    The value of the court audit reports perhaps are of little value since financial audits are not performed. These reports are more along the lines of what in the financial world would be called “management reports.” Sort of a procedures review.

    This is not at all surprising since John Judnick has virtually no experience as an auditor, much less an audit manager. He’s not even a CPA or a Certified Internal Auditor.

    I suspect in part this is why he is sort of hidden by management. If he were ever to appear in court or be required to stand behind his reports, based on his credentials a good attorney (or even an average one) would demolish his bona fides in one fell swoop.

    By the way he is also ostensibly the “Confidential Waste, Fraud and Abuse Coordinator.” This is kind of a hoot since telling John Judnick anything in confidence is sort of like putting it into an AOC wide e-mail.

    Once again the AOC hires for style and lets the substance falter.

    You want the real costs of CCMS? Isn’t that something Audit should have at their fingertips?

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      This is why the Alliance of AOC employees recommends walking across the street to 450 golden gate, taking the elevator up to the 13th floor and filing your whistleblower complaint with the FBI instead of John Judnick and IAD.

  13. John Judnick isn’t a CPA???

    That is incredible and explains a lot.

    I find it so interesting that the AOC is willing to spend so much time, energy and money auditing not only trial court finances, but operations. (Never mind that the AOC seems to be reluctant to hire anyone from the trial courts who actually understands the trial court operations. There are a few exceptions, Chris Patton for one.) But seems unwilling to open its books to outside scrutiny or examination. Particularly regarding the CCMS project. How can you spend $400 million on a project and not know where the money went. How can you not include the cost of the court staff who have been subject matter experts in the development of CCMS in teh overall costs? How can you be this far into the project and not have any plan to pay for deployment?

    How could an agency that calls out courts for the slightest variation from policy refuse to submit to an audit or reject the findings and recommendations of the auditor it hired to look at CCMS? I am sure the irony of seeing Bill and Sheila trying to answer the most basic questions about the CCMS budget, e.g., how much is it going to cost/where are you going to come up with the money to pay for the system was not lost on any CEO/CFO who has ever endured an AOC audit or been questioned by Phoenix/CARS staff about not having 3 quotes for a $500 purchase requisition.

    Can someone confirm Judnick doesn’t have a CPA???

  14. Oh No Mr. Bill

    Why did Mr. Bill painstakingly enlist a full arrany of his alias to try baffling the committee and the audience what they feel (he feels) the agency has done right?

    First of all, were their scripts written for them by the AOC? I mean, they read them well enough and all, but not so convincingly that it was as it were coming from them. No disrespect to the Judicial Dream Team.

    Secondly, in a time where court doors are being closed once a month, people are being laid off and all of the AOC staff are being furloughed, was it really fiscally sound to take so many Justics and Judges, off the bench for a day to speak on his behalf? I wonder what the cost of that was. to have Judicial Officers off the bench in a time where every day counts. Who paid for them to be there? Did they use their own personal vacation or did the AOC pay for their time and have them put it in a line item marked “other duties as required”. I guarantee no one paid for the public speakers to be there; the public who barely got 2 minutes each. I now why the caged birds sing.

    Why the need to take up so much time with so much BS? Not one question was answered straighforwardly. It was embarrassing. Why did he feel he needed so many character witnesses on his behalf? This was not a Jury Trial. He was not there for any criminal offenses, or was he?

    If the Legislative Committee could not see that he had so much to hide, well then, they were the only one’s watching the hearing who could not. I just want to know when the heck someone is going to step in and hold this very weak and self destructing agency accountable. Have we not heard enough?

    Perhaps the Chief did not know before about the shenanigans going on at the AOC, BUT HE KNOWS NOW!!!!

    Now is when The Chief should show his true leadership. Now is when he has an opportunity to demand an internal audit and let the cards fall where they may. Now is the time to dig deep in the trenches and educte himself on what has been done to the fiscal state, the employees, the reputatiuon and the once preserved morale of the AOC , and save face. Unless of course he has known all along what was going on and has just allowed it? Bill has been there almost 2 decades, how could he not have known?

    Either way Cheif, game over. It’s time to concede. You built this sinnking ship and let it run of course. It is now time to save it, or GO DOWN WITH IT. Either way, be accountable.

    Hiding behind the team who is taking you down, does not become you.

  15. The Chief Justice is an honorable man, so are they all, all honorable men

  16. justinianscode

    The focus should be on the actions of the people involved, and not their individual character (i.e., whether they are “honorable” or not).

    Regarding the subjectof the main post , the Alliance seeking financial information for acountability purposes, the actions to be scrutinized are how well the Judicial Branch budget is being managed and how well its money is spent.

    As far as I’m concerned, it is wrong to take $72 million from trial court operations in order to pursue a $1.75 billion computer program (as the Judicial Council to do on AOC’s recommendation). That money could have kept the courts open if distributed directly to the trial courts. That is what the Judicial Council should have told the AOC to do. In fact, the AOC leadership should have known to do that even without being told.

    Whether the people at the top of the AOC and on the Judicial Council are honorable is not the issue. The issue is the mistakes they have made, such as this diversion of trial court operating funds away from trial court operations.

    The Chief Justice can easily fix this mistake by showing the proper leadership. I am hoping he will do so. I’m not confident he will choose to do so, but hoping none the less.

  17. I will be the first to say that there are some very talented, highly skilled, very effective, extremely knowledgeable, and ready and willing workers employed by the courts as well as the AOC.

    Unfortunately, at the AOC, very few of those employees are assigned to positions responsible for decision-making that provides for fast, efficient, and effective service to the courts and the public in general.

    While the chief may not have necessarily known in the past what the bunglers that report to him are/were doing, he has enough information now. The chief has to make decisions that only an intelligent, fully ethical, moral, and honorable person would make; no matter how unpopular those decisions might be to current agency directors, managers, and supervisors.

    The AOC needs to be gradually cleaned out from top to bottom and replenished with forward thinking, intelligent, ethical, moral, effective, skilled, and honest individuals.

    Retaining the knuckle heads current in charge of the AOC is to beg for ongoing extremely low employee morale, legislative committee hearings, or something worse. The time has long passed for a new Executive Team at the AOC.

    I just hope the chief is listening to his constituents.

  18. Good one, Omerta. THe noble Brutus has told you they were ambitious.

  19. Heck, you all did love him once, not without cause.

    I am just saying…

  20. What is new AOC Watcher? Where have you been?

  21. PattyJaneSmith

    Ditto…Where have you been?

  22. I too wonder about the whereabouts of AOCWatcher. Until his/her return, I offer the following, from Monday’s Recorder newspaper, I believe, and can only say: ‘Bout time!

    Lawmakers Think Over Ways to Watch AOC

    Cheryl Miller

    11-16-2009

    SACRAMENTO — After scrutinizing the Administrative Office of the Courts in a nearly six-hour hearing last month, lawmakers are weighing their response. And much to the chagrin of AOC leaders, it probably won’t be limited to issuing a report that collects dust on an archive shelf.

    Lawmakers are talking about new legislation that would extend whistle-blower protections to AOC workers. There’s also chatter about requesting an audit of the controversial development of a billion-dollar case management system.

    “We’re talking about a branch of government that literally has the power of life and death over citizens,” said a legislative staffer, who spoke on the condition that his name not be used. “We can’t have laws that even look like we would cover up corruption.”

    An aide to Assemblywoman Audra Strickland said the Moorpark Republican wants to ensure that the 900-plus employees of the AOC can raise red flags about possible wrongdoing in the agency without fear of retaliation.

    “We definitely want to do our due diligence,” said Samuel Chung, Strickland’s capitol director. Bipartisan legislation, he said, “is a good possibility.”

    AOC employees don’t have the same civil service status or the protection of California whistle-blower laws that other state workers enjoy. That fact seemed to bother members of the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review despite assurances from AOC chief William Vickrey that employees are encouraged to report concerns internally.

    Strickland, the committee’s vice chairwoman, seemed particularly curious about rumors, alluded to on the anonymously authored blog AOC Watcher, that AOC workers had alerted their superiors to an employee who was allegedly embezzling money, but nothing was done.

    AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa said after the hearing that three years ago the agency, along with the California Highway Patrol and San Francisco Police Department, investigated reports that a temporary worker submitted timesheets for pay he was not entitled to. The district attorney’s office declined to press charges, Carrizosa said. The temp, who started work at the AOC in November 2005, left in 2006, he added.

    The committee is also aware of claims by Jack Urquhart, a veteran AOC analyst, that he was forced to retire by AOC leaders in July after admitting that he had provided information to the media about a pricey Judicial Council retreat.

    Lawmakers could run into trouble crafting any new whistle-blower statutes since many AOC employees are lawyers. Governors in the past have vetoed similar efforts to give whistle-blower protections to state lawyers, arguing that they would threaten attorney-client confidentiality. The state Supreme Court also declined in 2002 to adopt an amended professional conduct rule that would have allowed lawyers in limited circumstances to report “governmental misconduct” to law enforcement.

    “We definitely know that’s part of the equation,” Chung said, “and that’s been brought to [Strickland’s] attention.”

    ***

  23. I want to address the comment “AOC employees don’t have the same civil service status or the protection of California whistle-blower laws that other state workers enjoy. That fact seemed to bother members of the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review despite assurances from AOC chief William Vickrey that employees are encouraged to report concerns internally.” That the AOC’s staff has little recourse except via the AOC’s internal process was recently reiterated in a memo from Bill Vickery to the AOC staff.

    • justinianscode

      Hi Roberta:

      Please copy the relevant parts of that memo here, if possible. It would shed a lot of light on the details of the restrictions AOC staff deal with.

      Thanks.

  24. Judge Horan, thank you for the update. Sadly, it looks like the Chief is going to try to ride this out and hope the publicity will die before he has to change anything at the AOC or with the JC. Unless Judges like you, the brave court and AOC employees, and the AOC watcher keep this story alive he may be right. AOC watcher where are you?!
    Hey all you commentors, we need to comment on these stories from the newpapers (on their website) so they will keep this story alive!

  25. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    Text of memo to be posted immediately per Bill Vickrey.

    Note – you must still report this matter to the “confidential fraud, waste and abuse coordinator” internally. The only thing you will change by taking this route is your employment status. We still recommend skipping the AOC process and going directly to the FBI as the document below says its posted under the labor code but you are not a covered employee under the california whistleblower protection act!

    What kind of double-speak B.S. is this?

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

    It is the public policy of the State of California to encourage employees to notify appropriate authorities when they have reason to believe their employer is violating or is out of compliance with a state or federal statute, rule or regulation. Although the California Whistleblower Protection Act (Government Code §§8547-8548.5) does not apply to the California judicial branch, the California Labor Code whistleblower protection statute (California Labor Code §§1102.5-1106) protects employees of the AOC, California Supreme Court, and California Courts of Appeal who report actual or suspected violations or non-compliance.

    WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION
    The Labor Code whistleblower statute protects any person employed by an employer, private or public, including, but not limited to, individuals employed by the state or any subdivision thereof, any county, city, city and county, including any charter city or county, and any school district, community college district, municipal or public corporation, political subdivision, or the University of California.

    Who is protected?
    A “whistleblower” is an employee who discloses information to a government or law enforcement agency where the employee has reasonable cause to believe that the information discloses:

    What is a whistleblower?

    1. A violation of a state or federal statute,

    2. A violation of or noncompliance with a state or federal rule or regulation, or

    3. With reference to employee safety or health, unsafe working conditions or work practices in the employee’s employment or place of employment.

    A report made by an employee of a government agency to his or her employer is a disclosure of information to a “government or law enforcement agency” for the purpose of these protections.

    1. An employer may not make, adopt, or enforce any rule, regulation, or policy preventing an employee from acting as a whistleblower.
    What protections are afforded to whistleblowers?

    2. An employer may not retaliate against an employee who is a whistleblower.

    3. An employer may not retaliate against an employee for refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of or non-compliance with a state or federal statute, rule or regulation.

    4. An employer may not retaliate against an employee for having exercised his or her rights as a whistleblower in any former employment.
    If you have information regarding possible violation of a state or federal statute, rule or regulation, call the California State Attorney General’s Whistleblower Hotline at 1-800-952-5225, which will refer your call to the appropriate government authority for review and possible investigation. Reports may be referred to the AOC’s Finance Division, Internal Audit Services Unit, as the appropriate government authority for review and possible investigation. In addition to the Labor Code whistleblower protection statute, reports of misuse of judicial branch resources and other improper governmental activities may be made pursuant to California Judicial Branch Personnel Policy 6.7 and reported to the Judicial Branch Resource Abuse Hotline at 1-866-865-6400.

    How to report violations
    If you have information regarding possible violation of a state or federal statute, rule or regulation, call the California State Attorney General’s Whistleblower Hotline at 1-800-952-5225, which will refer your call to the appropriate government authority for review and possible investigation. Reports may be referred to the AOC’s Finance Division, Internal Audit Services Unit, as the appropriate government authority for review and possible investigation. In addition to the Labor Code whistleblower protection statute, reports of misuse of judicial branch resources and other improper governmental activities may be made pursuant to California Judicial Branch Personnel Policy 6.7 and reported to the Judicial Branch Resource Abuse Hotline at 1-866-865-6400.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Judicial Branch policy 6.7 reads something like “We will take your report”. Other than a change in your employment status, don’t expect them to act upon it.

  26. Thank you for your watchful eye and meaningful content…a Washington Court Reporter

  27. The word is spreading:

    LOIS HENRY: Closing courts wrong approach
    The Bakersfield Californian | Saturday, Nov 14 2009 01:45 PM
    Last Updated Saturday, Nov 14 2009 01:45 PM

    Courts closed

    The state Judicial Council decided to close county courts one day a month starting in September to save money.

    I have nothing against saving money, particularly since our state “leaders” can’t seem to figure out that spending $2 for every $1 you bring in doesn’t work out so well after a while.

    I digress. OK, so the courts are closed the third Wednesday of every month for an estimated savings of about $93 million over the full fiscal year.

    Hey, what if we closed the courts entirely? I bet that would save a boatload of cash! Oh wait, that might interfere with us peon citizens and our pesky right of access to justice. Darn it!

    All of which is to say that closing the courts even one day a month was the absolute wrong decision precisely because it absolutely does interfere with the public’s most basic right to access its own justice system.

    It becomes even more wrong when you follow the money and see that the Judicial Council, via their administrative arm, imaginatively called the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), moved a whole bunch of money ($171 million) that could have helped keep courts open into funds for other things — like a fancy new computer system that’s years in the making and already way over budget, according to a Sacramento Bee expose.

    They’re also still paying for new courthouse construction. And oh yeah, and they had $86,000 in change laying around so they decided to throw a three-day judicial wingding in San Francisco in June, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

    Meanwhile, you better check the court schedule and block out half a day if you want fight that speeding ticket in traffic court. And good luck with any civil case you might have. Kern courts, like most others, have had to prioritize, and that means criminal cases and domestic violence orders come first.

    “Those are being attended to,” Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe assured me.

    Lampe and all other Kern County judges have also taken a voluntary pay cut, which most are donating to a local fund for local court functions rather than giving it back to the state because, yes, they’re that ticked off about what’s happening.

    It’s not just that local courts are losing 10 days this fiscal year (which works out to two full work weeks). Judges are fed up with how the Judicial Council and AOC have taken more and more control over local courts and made decisions with little to no input from those affected.

    Recent news about the AOC hasn’t eased those concerns.

    The AOC was created by the Legislature about 10 years ago to handle costs — but not management — of California’s 58 individual trial court systems. Since then, it’s increased dramatically in size and scope. Shocking, I know.

    The Mercury News reported that from 2004 through last year, the AOC’s budget nearly doubled to more than $220 million and has gone from 490 to 901 employees, a third of whom make at least $100,000 per year.

    I’m no mathematician, but I bet you could save some serious dough trimming back the AOC ranks.

    AOC supporters have countered that it had to grow because the state increased its oversight of local courts.

    Not quite, according to Lampe, who helped create a new judges’ group, the Alliance of California Judges, dedicated to shining a brighter light on the Judicial Council and AOC.

    The Alliance sent a letter to the Judicial Council in October, saying the AOC has sacrificed public court access in order to keep itself off the chopping block and that it has overstepped its bounds by trying to wrest control of local court management, which legally belongs to county judges.

    As an aside, an AOC staffer did slip an amendment into the budget bill that would have totally done away with local control of courts. (It didn’t pass — the AOC later said the amendment was a “mistake.”) As a further aside, AOC is also talking about trying to take control of courthouse security in order to save money. That authority legally resides with each county sheriff, but the AOC will bring the issue to the Judicial Council at its January meeting. Sheriff Donny Youngblood and the Californian Sheriff’s Association are not pleased.

    Lampe’s Alliance group is asking for a bill of rights for court employees and creation of an advisory group made up of trial court judges to oversee financial decisions. So far, the Judicial Council hasn’t responded; Lampe said their next step may be to go to the Legislature, which already called the AOC on the carpet during an Assembly oversight hearing Oct. 28.

    California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George, who heads the Judicial Council, regretted having to close the courts, but assured me it wasn’t an AOC scheme cooked up behind closed doors. And, he said, if anyone has a better alternative, he’s more than willing to listen.

    “This was a Judicial Council decision that we made — reluctantly — after substantial input from local courts,” George told me.

    When I asked if any Kern judges were involved, he couldn’t get that specific, saying that the Judicial Council has two committees, one made up of presiding judges and the other of court administrators, and he assumed those committees were consulted.

    I asked whether the council had considered holding off funding the computer system and George said even if they hadn’t fully funded the computer project (which they did) they might still have needed to close courts considering they were facing a $400 million shortfall. Either way, he said, stopping midstream on the computer system would have been a terrible waste of tax dollars.

    “You’d be throwing away the $450 million invested so far,” he said. “If you don’t keep it going you have to start from scratch.”

    He praised the system, saying those who’ve tested it can’t say enough good about it and that even Homeland Security is interested.

    As criticism mounted over the court closures earlier this fall, George was quoted as saying, “A lot of this is an effort to dismantle the statewide administration of justice because with the statewide administration of justice comes accountability.”

    The comment chapped a lot of hides, particularly because the Judicial Council and AOC have been downright secretive about how, exactly, they spend our tax dollars.

    I asked George if he stood by that statement and he said yes.

    He realizes the Judicial Council and AOC can be more open with information and they’re willing to do so, he said, and he’s not impugning the debate over the closures. But they did consider other measures, such as massive layoffs or allowing locals to close dependency courts or domestic violence courts or cutting other services county by county.

    “The irony is, the best way of preserving access for all was actually limiting the days court were open on a consistent statewide basis,” he said.

    I respectfully disagree.

    Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian

    Computer crisis proving costly
    From The Fresno Bee

    Posted: 11/14/2009 10:03:22 PM PST

    It’s not surprising that California’s courts are having trouble developing a massive new computer system. The state continues to build an information superhighway strewn with potholes.

    In a state known for its high-tech innovation, how can its government be so low-tech?

    In recent years, a computer system designed to track child-support payments ran up tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns. So did an effort by the Department of Motor Vehicles to update its computerized operations.

    But the snafu involving the computers for the California courts is even worse. Its eye-popping price tag, closing in on $2billion and climbing, comes in the midst of a massive state budget crisis.

    The court has been inept in administering the project. It failed in the most basic task of making a business case for the project. It apparently never put in writing what it was seeking to solve or how the planned computer system solves the problem.

    Even now, the cost estimates for the system and its reach – which courts will be included and which won’t – remain murky.

    Enough is enough when it comes to wasteful spending, poorly managed technology initiatives and bloated bureaucracies.

    California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George, who oversees the state court system, should invite independent outside scrutiny.

    In addition, the Bureau of State Audits should do a top-to-bottom review of the state court bureaucracy and a representative sample of county court systems.

    The court has proven intent in this matter, and the state’s chief technology officer should take over the court’s computer project.