Judicial Wars: A Battle of He Said, He Said….He Said

Right before the Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review held its hearing on the AOC last month, Judge Dan Goldstein of San Diego had his opinion piece published in several California newspapers. His op-ed piece voiced many of the problems with the AOC and questioned its commitment to the public we serve. Needless to say, his op-ed garnered much support. But I shouldn’t neglect the fact that it also had a lot of detractors.

One detractor in particular is Justice Richard Huffman of the Fourth District of Appeal. Justice Huffman wrote a letter to the editor of the San Diego Union Tribune which happened to be one of the papers that published Judge Goldstein’s opinion piece. In his letter Justice Huffman sang a tune we’ve all come to expect (and hate) from AOC high command which was basically that Judge Goldstein had all the facts wrong, that we can’t go after the funds for court construction because it’s illegal, that the AOC’s budget process is transparent. (Oh, it is? Prove it. Email me a detailed budget for the AOC from this past year.)

But Justice Huffman’s letter wasn’t going to go unanswered. He got a response from Judge Charles Horan of LA Superior Court who wrote a response and called Justice Huffman out for all of the things he DIDN’T mention in his letter to the editor. And Judge Horan did not mince words. Here’s a portion of his letter:

As your readers may know, Justice Huffman and the other members of the Judicial Council recently voted to adopt the plan to shut down all courts in California one day per month. What they may not know is that Justice Huffman and the other members of the council (excluding one member from Los Angeles) recently voted to continue to dump hundreds of millions of dollars into a troubled statewide computer system that published reports indicate will cost at least $2 billion, despite our inability to keep the courts open to the public. This amount equates to over $1 million per state judge.

They also may not know that many on the council favor floating $6 billion in construction bonds at a time when California is steeped in debt. It is against this backdrop that Goldstein reasonably proposed giving local courts control over using scarce funds to keep courts open rather than to build new courthouses.

Aside from the usual words of defense of the AOC, the one thing I found PARTICULARLY galling in Justice Huffman’s letter was that he corrected Judge Goldstein by saying it was not the AOC who decided on court closures. It was the Judicial Council. And not only did he admit that it was the Judicial Council that pulled the trigger, a council of which he is a member, he then claimed that the “difficult decision” to close was made with consultation of “state and local representatives, attorneys, public safety officials and union representatives.”

Okay, just because you discussed closing the courts with those groups does not mean that you had the support of those groups. In fact many people within those groups questioned the need for court closures and challenged both the AOC and the JC’s assertion that court closures was the only way that courts could cope with the budget deficit. Nowhere in his letter does Justice Huffman address the fact that they’re spending billions of tax dollars on a court software program that’s already become a negative symbol of government spending. Nowhere in his letter does Justice Huffman address the fact that he and other members of the Judicial Council voted to take millions out of the Trial Court Spending fund and channel it into their little pet software program.

The Judicial Council members should be put on notice from here on out. You have every right to step forward and defend the JC and the AOC and the actions of both. But be prepared to face some heat. The days of people keeping silent are over. As they should be.

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33 responses to “Judicial Wars: A Battle of He Said, He Said….He Said

  1. justinianscode

    Justice Huffman’s letter to the Union is similar to the letter Justice Hill – -another Judicial Council member who voted to close courts in order to fund CCMS – sent to the Modesto Bee recently (http://www.modbee.com/1646/story/936543.html).

    This type of defensive maneuvering would wake most people up to the fact that they might need to rethink their plans. Perhaps the JC members are in denial, but they can’t honestly think that the criticism they are receiving from judges, local administrators, the press, the unions, the employees, the legislature and all the other interested parties is nothing more than the product of misinformation.

    The best way for the JC members to convince us they cast the right votes is to give us the information they actually relied on in casting those votes. Show us what you read and relied on, not the materials sent to you that you did not have time to read. And if you received information in a meeting of some sort, tell us what it is so that we will know too.

    I suspect that the JC members do not actually have information we do not have. I would bet instead that the rest of us have a fairly good grasp of the facts and have just come to a contrary and more reasonable conclusion about how to run the Judicial Branch.

    • Judicial Observer

      I bet the only information the Judicial Council members had for such an historic vote and action was just what the AOC leaders provided to them and thought they should have. I also bet there was no open and public comment during the Council session, or any invitation to affected courts, staff and the public to attend and comment prior to any vote.

      If there was, I’d like to see the minutes indicating such, and copies of all the documents given to the members before they voted. That would be transparency.

    • access2justice

      The Bee may have moved the page. Here is another link to Justice Hill’s letter:

      http://www.modbee.com/opinion/letters/story/936543.html

      This one is all about how awesome CCMS is. (Did you know that it’s “nearly complete”? Yeah…..the version they’ll be using in Neverland.) If the JC members actually believe that, I suspect they’re only being fed one half of the story.

      Hey, fun fact: Remember that swanky conference the AOC held a while back? I’ll bet Justice Hill has fond memories of it, too:

      “An estimated 25 of the 70 attendees spent two nights each at the Hilton (at a discounted price of $138 per night) and one member (a fellow named Judge Brad R. Hill) spent the night in the “Presidential Suite” because, according to the memo, it was his turn.”

      Refresh your memory here:

      https://aocwatcher.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/aoc-described-as-mothership-of-bloated-bureaucracy/

  2. I agee with all of the above. I expect the perpetual JC member such as Justices Huffman and Hill are getting defensive. They approved the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars without asking any questions or requiring any accountability. For example, it may have been helpful to ask questions such as: “Why is thing costing so much?” “Did we follow any of the recommendations in the 2004 LAO report?” “Where are we going to get the money to pay for this?” “It’s been over 8 years. Why don’t we have a finished product?” “Before spending any more money on this, can I see a plan?”

    Trust me, those questions were not asked.

    Justice Huffman equivocates when he says it would be illegal to spend construction money on trial court operations. While technically he may be correct, the legislature authorized the AOC to use construction funds to offset budget reductions to the court this year and next year. There is nothing to prevent the AOC from going back to legislature and asking for more since it will be needed to keep the courts open.

  3. Omerta wonders where is the Chief Justice. Omerta wonders why Justices Huffman and Hill are sending letters to the news media rather than having them come from the Chief Justice.
    Omerta wonders why the Chief Justice was not at the recent legislative hearings.

  4. The Chief always sends his proxies to fight when the heat begins to build. Since he is only good at taking cheap shots at honest employees and judges from the safety of press releases and arranged press interviews, he can continue with the luxury of using his minions for the heavy lifting. Pretending to stay above it all has its price. His alloofness causes all to see why he is commonly referred to as “King George.” And before anyone thinks that is a recent creation, one only needs to talk to those that have known him for years or have spoken quietly to members of the Legislature. It is an open secret, but one that is gaining common currency as the AOC spirals out of control. Those that carry water for the Chief owe him a lot. Perhaps too much. Perhaps they foresake their own integrity for the chance to please the “king.”

    Want to stop the nonesense? Make the Judicial Council members personnally responsible for their decisions. They may actually have to think about what they do rather than just doing the Chief/AOC’s bidding. They may think twice before doing their master’s chores.

  5. Someone should ask Justices Huffman and Hill who actually drafted their letters to the editors. I’d be willing to bet that the first drafts either came directly from the AOC’s Public Information Office or Office of Communications, and that they were approved by the AOC Executive Office before being sent to the Justices for minor tweaks and sigs. AOC insiders know that JC and AOC big shots very often don’t write their own correspondence, their own speeches or their own talking points. The AOC employs a staff of spin doctors whose job it is to make sure the party line gets toed in print.

    • justinianscode

      This ghost letter-writing concern has come up in at least two earlier instances that I’ve heard about.

      When the proposal for the Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions (CJEO) was first brought to public light, it came in the form of a letter from the Chair of the Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP). The new committee, his letter said, would be an official government body which would take over the functions carried out by the California Judges Association’s Committee on Judicial Ethics, including operating an ethics hot line. Putting aside for a moment the fact that everyone familiar with this issue knew there was no way that judges would call a government body with their potential ethics issues when a private option that had worked well for decades – and was respected nationwide for its work – was available, the pertinent point here is that those who know the CJP chair said that he could not have written the letter he sent the Chief recommending the CJEO’s creation; it wasn’t written in his style, nor was it like him to come up with such an idea on his own. Many judges thought it more likely that, by style and substance, the idea originated with the Chief Justice’s own top staff. I could be wrong, though, and would like to read the Chair’s response; perhaps he will claim total authorship and credit for coming up with the idea.

      The second instance concerns judicial education. For years, California’s judges created and taught courses that were admired nationwide when it came to judicial education, which our judges attended in droves on a voluntary basis. Then the chair of the Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER, a committee under the authority of the Judicial Council) sent a letter to the Chief Justice suggesting that judicial education should become mandatory. When asked why he sent such a letter, i.e. whether there was a problem that needed fixing, the chair said there was no problem that he knew of. Rather, he said the idea came from AOC staff.

      The desire for transparency in how the administrative leadership in San Francisco works would be furthered if these types of letters would include language noting that they are being sent on staff recommendation as opposed to being sent on the initiative of the committee/commission chairs. It’s an idea worth consideration by those top administrators, I would think.

  6. stop closed door meetings

    It was a “difficult decision” alright.

    Bill Vick sends a report to the JC with a recommendation from the “Executive and Planing Committee” and the AOC to shut down the courts one day a month on July 29, 2009.
    (http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/jc/documents/reports/072909item3.pdf)

    At the same exact sitting, JC votes UNANIMOUSLY to make history by closing the doors of justice statewide. (http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/jc/documents/min072909.pdf)

    Why aren’t the JC Excecutive and Planning Committee meetings public like the Legislative Accountability and Administrative Review Committee meetings are? Nice try at making meetings and decisions transparent. And the JC “minutes” absolutely suck. Bill Vick writes them.

  7. Justice Huffman is as Omerta says just a huge “lickspitter”. Why has he been on the council for years and years? Why has justice Baxter been on the council for years and years….they are yes men to the Chief of course and they will take the heat for him for his favors.
    Let me tell you from my own inside info, NOTHING gets to the Chief without Bill seeing it, and of course he provides him the filtered info that he desires him to see, if he even gets to see it! Nothing about the AOC is EVER sent out without the AOC editing. NOTHING, not even minutes of the JC or any other working group/committee, etc. However, that does not absolve the Chief for not being responsible ultimately for the mess.But of course, his not seeing the info allows him to blame his innocent staff who are just serving the will of Bill. Right on pacwest50.
    Justice Huffman is not only a butt kisser but from the old school that staff is there to serve him and that he is entiled..hotel rooms, nice wines, nice rides, yada, yada. And by the way, female staff are persona non grata. Democratizing the JC is the only solution!

  8. Stop Closed Door Meetings & Courtflea:

    It’s employees in AOC’s Secretariat Unit that write the JC minutes which are then approved by Bill Vickrey and his copyeditors.

    The Executive and Planning Committee meetings are many times conducted by telephone conference so forget “open to the public.” As any AOC employee who deals with E & P knows – Justice Huffman controls the E & P agenda. As chair he can rule on what info gets out of E & P to the public. He’s been known to kill bought and paid for reports prepared by external consultants when the findings did not give support to AOC or JC purposes. Don’t look for anything to be different with the committees since most of them don’t even keep budgets for their activities and ‘change’ is the same as a dirty word in that quarter. Maybe its ‘cause the justice has been around so long, he figures we should all trust him?

  9. Ms. Mel, how well I know! Whatever it is the JC or whatever how small a committee or working group is, the minutes do not truly represent what happended at the meetings do they? Staff atttends the meetings, takes notes, prepares the draft minutes and guess what? by then,after they are “reviewed”, they are published, violia! the events that occured are totally different! suprise! And yes, Justice Huffman is a scary individual indeed! Dump these old white guys off the council. He is not trusted, he is feared and supported by the chief. Don’t forget the AOC’s staff training in “Carverizing” which translated means control the agenda and participants in the committes by the AOC staff to keep them on the AOC agenda. sick sick sick.

  10. Someone should look into the Ralph Shapiro Administration of Justice Fund!

    • justinianscode

      Please give us as much detail as you can on this. Otherwise we have no idea if your suggestion is a good one or not, nor how to even begin.

  11. Shapiro Fund is the slush fund controlled by the Chief and Bill Vickrey. It is used for, among other things, to buy alcohol for Judicial Council members. Other politicians (e.g. the Governor) have received criticism for having such privately sponsored funds available to them for use. Reference can be found buried in the Judicial Council minutes. Many have quietly whispered over the years about how it is inappropriate for the Chief Justice to have such a fund but no one has ever really objected to it. Part of the reasons is that so many in Sacramento have their own similar funds. Hope that helps.

  12. Ralph J. Shapiro, of the Shapiro Fund, is a Beverly Hills attorney. He is reportedly one of the richest (and quietest) people in L.A. He has donated countless millions to UCLA and charities. Look at his political contributions (wow) to learn of his leanings. What return does he receive on his investment to the JC?

  13. Onlooker–What does RJ Shapiro receive in return? Little AOC birdies say: nice vacations with the CJ in Africa? Could that be true?

  14. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    And finally, he said…….

    http://www.bakersfield.com/opinion/community/x1508395022/A-plan-to-restore-confidence-in-courts

    Dear Judge Lampe and the rest of the Judges in the Alliance of California Judges,

    Thank you and we largely concur with one caveat:

    About this:

    “Finally, the Alliance believes that the Legislature should act to place the employees of the AOC under the existing protections of the “whistle blower” statutes, to ensure that employees feel free to bring their concerns about operations of the AOC to public light.”

    The other alliance – the one of AOC employees requests a bit more than you’ve suggested.

    We’re requesting that the trial court advisory group that you’re requesting the legislature to form also serve the function of processing, investigating and prosecuting whistleblower claims and be endowed with a budget and staff to do so.

    Permanently and forever remove from the AOC and the Judicial Council the ability to look into its own complaints where the whistlebower manager reports to the director of finance – the group that manages vendor relations – and as a result, no action is ever taken on any complaint.

    Help us – work with us – to permanently end this conflict of interest and bring a conclusion to the chapter known as the “confidential fraud, waste and abuse coordinator” who makes no bones about their function with respect to their name.

    generalobiwan.kenobi@yahoo.com

  15. Thanks to Judge Lampe and the Alliance. Now about that new advisory committee of elected, active judges: sounds like an idea that’s sure to inspire AOC executive and JC resistance. Let’s hope the Alliance is prepared to lobby the legislature.

  16. The only way the Legislature will get some real oversight over the AOC will be to mandate the democratization of the Judicial Council. The Judicial Branch cannot have ultimate power consolidated in one person without running extreme risks. Given the Chief’s comments about a “declaration of war” should anyone within the Judicial Branch attempt to democratize the Council, the best alternative is to have the Legislature mandate it…

  17. I agree but I think that it will take a change in the State Constitution to do this.

  18. This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the AOC Watcher, but wonder ever so where the host has gone.

    It seems things have really cooled off, and AOC is back to doing just as expected, bad and underhanded business as usual. It makes one wonder if they (Management) knew all along nothing would be done – even with the hearing, all the media and hype- They knew from day one, eventually they could carry on as business as usual.

    Please come back AW Host and keep the fire burning. For if we let everything fade away as they anticipated for themselves…. all the light that was shown over what is truly going on behind closed doors, will all have been in vain.

  19. Fire Still Ignited

    Friends,
    It is always quietest before the storm. Come January when the Legislature reconvenes there’s very likely to be a fire storm. Please don’t be disheartened – change will come.

  20. There is no such thing as the AOC returning to business as usual. The legislative hearing of October 2009 was an unmitigated disaster. Almost everyone who is poison at the agency has already been identifed here by name (with no one bothering to defend those people, or put any effort to contradict the descriptions).

    And it’s been intimated above that either someone tried to blow the whistle in Finance and was thwarted, or it’s about to happen any day now and it can’t be stopped. Welcome to the new era of California justice.

  21. Runston G. Maino

    AOC WATCHER knows that this site is read by newspersons, members of the AOC, judges, members of the Legislature, justices and members of the public. Perhaps AOC WATCHER wants to take a pause and let all of the above groups take stock of what has already been revealed.

    In preparation for a January 2010 judicial Council meeting to review the impact of the court closures the AOC is surveying all of the 58 trial courts. Our Presiding Judge, here in San Diego, advised us of this survey on the 25th of November. Many of us have already responded. I urge all judges and commissioners to make sure their presiding judge distributes this request from the AOC and that they then reply to it.

    Also on the 25th of November the Daily Transcript had an article written by Judge O’Malley about whether or not 1407 funds should be used to operate the courts. I quote her language: “Äs reported in this paper on November 12, there are calls to sidetrack this program by redirecting project funds to local court operations. I believe this approach is shortsighted and will permanently cripple our shared goals of equal access to justice for all Californians. Fifty of my fellow presiding judges agree with me, including many who do not have projects planned in their county.”

    Here in San Diego we have not been asked by our PJ whether or not he should agree or disagree with Judge O’Malley. Did she circulate a paper which a fellow PJ could sign or not sign?
    If so what did this paper say? Obviously she is going to use this information to tell the Legislature that 1407 funds should not be used to operate the courts. I urge all judges who read this to ask their PJs if they have signed something and if so what was it they signed. I urge the newspeople and the Legislature to ask her to produce what she had the other PJs sign or agreee to and to provide a list of the PJs who did and did not sign.

    I have heard a rumor that someone from the Judicial Council/AOC/ Presiding Judges Council is circulating or is going to circulate a statement amongst the 58 Presiding Judges asking for their support of CCMS saying that it is vital for the Judicial Branch and it is a successful program. I urge that no PJ sign such a statement until they have checked with the judges and staff members of their court who actually work with CCMS.

    I send this out as an individual judge. Although I am a member of The San Diego Superior Court, the CJA and the ACJ I have no leadership position in any of these organizations and do not speak for them.

    R. G. Maino

  22. For the judges and administrators out there, the important question to ask your PJ and CEO is if they did sign anything in support of not using 1407 funds for coourt operations or CCMS is WHY they made that decision. Again, I am afraid the support is out there only because PJs/CEOs are in fear for their budgets and/or their own careers. If the legislataure wants real answers, they need to speak to judges, CEOs, court staff, etc. off the record and without fear of disclosure.

  23. Picture, if you will, Bill Vickrey in a cubicle on the sixth floor. Do you think he could start the application process for a grant?

    How about Ron Overholt? A cubicle on the seventh floor; could he process an invoice?

    Sheila Calabro, think she could run a multi-billion dollar computer project? Wait, I’m sorry, now we’re just getting ridiculous.

    The point is that every employee at the courts, every employee at the AOC, every employee of the Judicial Branch provides a unique and valuable service. From the newest, untrained clerical employee to the Chief, we all have committed our careers and talents to run the largest, most complex judicial system in the world.

    So why do failures at the top, failures that should have been foreseen, failures in programs that were foisted on a staff that tried to provide insight but whose voices and experiences were ignored, failures that have cost the least of us the greatest in terms of financial impact and personal loss, barely affected those at the top?

    There is a cynicism and sense of self-entitlement among “our executive management team” the likes of which have not been seen since Oliver Twist asked for more gruel. While upper management gorges itself on it’s self provided perks and pay raises for it’s unqualified toadies, it pays for those unearned benefits on the backs of employees who “voluntarily” took a pay reduction thinking they were serving the people of the state.

    When Bobby, supervisor of no one and the Sofa Man deride and scoff at the AOC Watcher they need to be reminded that ridiculing the truth will not change it and serve only to underscore it.

    The time for the pigs feeding at the trough needs to come to an end. The time for those with the most enriching themselves to the detriment of those with the least needs to come to an end. The time for the unqualified and the talentless rewarding themselves for their failures needs to come to an end.

    The time for action is now.

    The time for the Judicial branch employees to restore their self-worth and be rewarded for their efforts is now.

    The time for the people of the State of California to regain control of their judiciary is now.

    Sunshine is the best disinfectant, now is the time to raise the shades and open the windows.

    Judicial Branch employees, keep the momentum going, jointly we are bigger than management and our power rests in our competence and our dedication to higher ideals than free parking places and expensive dinners.

  24. Thank you Dean Moriarity. Trial judges,the Legislature and others are not against the AOC. They know that there are scores of dedicated and able employees who work there.

    I believe that you have been poorly lead. This poor leadership was obvious to anyone who watched the Assembly hearings on accountability. I watched those hearings and I saw open disbelief on the part of the Assemblypersons when AOC leadership tried to explain what they were doing and how much it would cost to do it.

    I say we need lots of sunshine and a lot less free wine at Judicial Council meetings and a lot fewer stays in Presidential Suites at the Hilton.

  25. This from the LA Times this week on bungled state computer systems. CCMS is included.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-state-computers22-2009nov22,0,4065730.story

  26. It is unfortunate that there was not more robust debate at the last meeting of the Judicial Council. Judge Lee Smalley Edmon (Los Angeles) was eloquent in stating her objection to excessive use of reserves to keep CCMS on “life support,” but she has only one voice. I would be shocked if the other council members who voted “yes” could clearly articulate what their personal belief was regarding what their yes vote meant as far as cost, timeframe or clear deliverables for “V4.” If he or she can and is willing to do so, everyone in the branch would welcome an explanation.

    • justinianscode

      Chief Justice George tells us that those who oppose the Judicial Council’s decision to fund CCMS with Trial Court Trust Fund money are uninformed (and, at times, shrill as well). I urge the Chief and other members of the JC who voted in favor to give us the details they relied upon in casting that vote. I don’t mean a release of the written materials the AOC provided to council members, since I don’t know if they read those materials or not; I mean the actual information the council members had in mind when they cast their votes. (I actually read the materials posted on the AOC website as the preparatory materials for that JC meeting. They did not convince me, as the Chief suggests they should, that TCTF money should be shunted over to CCMS.)

      I suspect that we will find that they don’t really have more information than we do, nor do they have some superior understanding of the issues. Instead, we will find that they just have a different opinion of what constitutes wise use of branch moneys. They think it should be spent on a computer system, while others think the computer system should wait (and die on the vine if necessary) in order to keep the courthouse doors open.

      Does avoiding courthouse closure days always trump everything else? I don’t know; it depends on what those other things are. Does it trump a computer system that at 1.7 billion dollars is going to cost 7 times more than originally anticipated? Absolutely.

      But apparently, according to the Chief Justice, I am uninformed (although I hope I am not coming across as shrill). So inform me. I bet the JC members who voted in favor of CCMS don’t have any better understanding of the issues than I do, because I sure haven’t seen superior information and understanding in any of the JC member editorials I’ve been reading in the papers lately.

  27. One final thought before I leave the country:

    Any polling of the branch should use a sample size that adequately represents the varied constituents of the branch (and should not simply ask one question about CCMS). My hunch is that “reopening the courts to the fullest extent possible in 2010” would place number one as the best way to restore trust and confidence in the California judiciary.

  28. What a sad place we are in. The CJ has taken over the third branch of Cali government. Our courts are ordered closed denying the public access to them.Local courts are required to furlough employees or lay them off at the same time the AOC continues to grow and raise their salaries . If any Judge dare try and speak out about these issues the CJ states they are shrill, uninformed and uninterested in access to the courts. How ironic. The public that the courts serve need to ask how can we change this? Legislative reform? Democratizing the Judicial Council? Voting not to reconfirm the CJ? Thanks AOC Watcher for providing the forum.Now lets all talk about some ways to reach positive meaningful change !