Those of you who’ve been reading the AOC Watcher blog know full well that sometimes the choicest bits of reading come not from what I post, but from what other readers post in the comments section. And if you’ve been reading the comments section for the various posts you’ll know that one of the key issues for current AOC employees is whether they’re protected by whistleblower laws. There seems to be a lot of confusion as to whether AOC employees are covered by the California Whistleblower Protection Act. Although some employees think otherwise, the AOC stands firm in its belief that its employees are NOT protected by the California Whistleblower Protection Act.
And how strong is that belief? Strong enough to have signs like the ones below posted in one AOC office.
According to this sign, “The California Whistleblower Protection Act does not apply to the judicial branch and its employees. If you wish to report improper judicial branch activity-actions that violate the law, are economically wasteful, or involve gross misconduct, incompetence or inefficiency-please refer to the “Judicial Branch Resource Abuse Hotline” poster located elsewhere on this bulletin board.”
The Recorder’s Cheryl Miller writes in this morning’s edition of the legal paper that legislators at last month’s committee hearing on the AOC are concerned enough about protecting AOC employees who come forward to report abuse in the agency that they’re considering enacting new legislation that would give AOC employees whistleblower protection.
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.”
The article goes on to detail that as concerned as lawmakers are about protecting AOC employees, they might find it difficult to include AOC employees under the protection of any legal umbrella they build.
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.”
So, here’s the question. How far are lawmakers on both sides of the legislative aisle willing to go to create new legislation to protect AOC employees who wish to come forward with damaging information about the AOC? Especially since past governors haven’t been too receptive to the idea of protecting lawyers who work for the AOC. Would they have the number of votes to override any governor’s veto? And what say the AOC? Will they stand silently by and let legislators create vehicles of oversight over the AOC or will they fight any proposed legislation tooth and nail? I think we all know what the answer to that last question is.