California Judges Assn Sends Letter to Judicial Council Urging “Greater Oversight” of AOC Pay

Perhaps sensing that this was an issue they couldn’t let pass without comment, Judge Michael P. Vicencia of the California Judges Association emailed a statement to its members saying that it had sent a letter to the members of the Judicial Council urging them “to take a greater oversight role in the pay structure of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Judge Vicencia must have felt the letter to the Judicial Council was necessary since the Daily Journal broke the news last week that raises had been given out to certain AOC employees. As Judge Vicencia states in his letter, the raises to AOC employees “created a serious crisis of confidence in the Judicial Council’s ability to provide proper oversight to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

The raises were especially troubling to Judge Vicencia in light of all the sacrifices by court staff, the judicial bench, and the general public.

This comes at a time when the state is mired in the worst financial crisis ever. For the first time in history all court houses are ordered closed a day every month, mandating every court employee take an unpaid day off from work. Citizens seeking access to judges for important legal business, including domestic violence restraining orders, are now turned away the third Wednesday of each month. Meanwhile, CJA’s members voluntarily give up 5% of their monthly salaries to save taxpayer dollars. This sacrifice will yield over $90,000,000 to California ’s citizens this fiscal year.

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

Members of the Judicial Council:

The recent Daily Journal article Tough Times Aside, AOC Doles Out Raises, Perks has created a serious crisis of confidence in the Judicial Council’s ability to provide proper oversight to the Administrative Office of the Courts. The California Judges Association’s Executive Committee has reviewed the AOC’s response to the article and believes strong action must be taken to address this issue.

This comes at a time when the state is mired in the worst financial crisis ever. For the first time in history all court houses are ordered closed a day every month, mandating every court employee take an unpaid day off from work. Citizens seeking access to judges for important legal business, including domestic violence restraining orders, are now turned away the third Wednesday of each month. Meanwhile, CJA’s members voluntarily give up 5% of their monthly salaries to save taxpayer dollars. This sacrifice will yield over $90,000,000 to California ’s citizens this fiscal year.

With trial courts in such dire financial circumstances, it is unfortunate that the AOC is approving discretionary raises without the prior, public approval of the Judicial Council. As the elected members of the Judicial Branch, judges must take greater oversight of the bureaucracy of the branch. Judges must demonstrate their ability to be good stewards of the people’s money.

CJA therefore urges the following course of action. First, all future raises and all upper management compensation must be publicly discussed and approved by the Judicial Council. These changes should be implemented as soon as possible but certainly no later than mid-January 2010. Second, I will ask CJA’s Executive Board at its January meeting to urge all of its members to withdraw from the Voluntary Salary Waiver program in favor of a different plan. We will continue our financial belt-tightening to better the courts but CJA will suggest that each local court establish a non-profit entity into which judges will contribute 5% of their net salary.

CJA is proud of its working relationships with all stakeholders in California ’s court system, including the AOC. CJA will continue as a constructive partner, however, confidence in the branch is dependent on the action we take now.

Judge Michael P. Vicencia

19 responses to “California Judges Assn Sends Letter to Judicial Council Urging “Greater Oversight” of AOC Pay

  1. Congratulations Judge Michael P. Vicencia. As president of CJA you have taken a courageous stand on behalf of the rank and file judges throughout the state.

    I understand that you were attacked at the Judicial Council meeting by King Georges attack dog, Justice Huffman for your position. I also understand that you stood your ground. Very nicely done!

  2. justinianscode

    It’s nice to see CJA take a stand.

    As for those on the Judicial council who criticize CJA’s position, who cares what they think? They’re the people whose decisions are running the Judicial Branch into the ground.

  3. stopthemadness

    It is encouraging that CJA and others are taking a stand. Come reelection time, we should all take note who is standing where on these issues. I don’t see the difference between what the AOC is doing with taxpayer money versus others in the news lately that have gone to prison for getting fat off of the investments of others.

  4. The Chief Justice used the word “Carverization” at today’s Judicial Council meeting if I heard him correctly. Is someone trying to show off?
    I bet Justice Huffman and Mr. Vickrey had no idea of what he was talking about. But then why should they since they do not attend hoity toity writer’s conferences as does the Chief.

    Perhaps the Chief remembers the poem by Raymond Carver called “What the Doctor Said”.

    Here are the first lines which Omerta suggests sums up the present state of both the Judicial Council and the AOC.

    “He said it doesn’t look good
    he said it looks bad in fact real bad
    he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before I quit counting them

    Justice Huffman blames a newspaper for his discomfort. How sad. The poor man knows that it is newspapers from the top of the state to the bottom of the state; it is the Legislature; it is the ACJ; it is PORAC; it is SEIU, it is employees in the AOC, it is the public. And now it is the CJA.

  5. judicial observer

    Although an ex-officio member of the Judicial Council, Judge Vicencia as President of the California Judges Association speaks on behalf of over 90% of the trial court judges of this state. He is one of the few members on the Council not directly chosen by the Chief Justice and therefor has credibility as a truly independent representative of the Judicial Branch.

    His position is correct, courageous and refreshing. He undoubtedly has the support of his Board of Directors and they their respective constiuents. This is a powerful voice and one which should be heeded. The judges are no longer silentlyconcerned about the destruction of their courts by the AOC leadership’s arrogance and ineptness in so many areas.

    At a time when this branch needs leadership and insight into the continuing failure and fiscal mismanagement of the AOC which is leading to the denial of access to the courts by the public we serve and a crisis of public confidence, we instead get the continuing “shrill” denial of any problems by those who are charged with oversight. There will be little support or empathy for the judiciary when the legislature begins to tackle the upcoming budget deficit.

    When anyone asks why the courts are again cut and why in the next months we are looking at a massively failed judicial system in California, they need not blame the public, the legislature, the Governor or even the AOC. They only need to look around the Judicial Council table to discover the reason. It will be because of their failure of oversight of the AOC. It is a failure of true leadership.

    Thank you Judge Vicencia for speaking for us.

  6. Bravo CJA! It is about time! I am so glad our judicial officers have found their mojo. No disrespect intended.

    I have mentioned “Carverize” in my comments before. There was a training done at the AOC many years ago (at least 11) by some consultant named Carver where AOC employees were taught to take control of committee/task forces agendas rather than let the poor shmucks (judges and CEOs) drift off and lose sight of what the agenda should be. This training was key because judges and CEOs were starting to disagree with the AOC agenda.

    Idon’t know the context of the Chiefs use of this or a similar term but just a guess.

    As for Justice Huffman, I am a firm believer in karma and one day he will have his day. What goes around comes around and I just hope we are all around to see it. The days of good ole boys, white old male power are soon to be over.

    Thanks again CJA!!!

    • justinianscode

      Keep in mind that many judges have been speaking out long before CJA took this stand; just look at those who have been quoted in news articles, written Op-Ed pieces, kept email conversations going with their fellow judges and formed the Alliance.

      Those judges have done so even though they have been warned not to by others who fear retaliation from the AOC leadership and certain JC members. It can go bad for a local court if those who hold the purse strings are displeased.

  7. An interesting idea indeed- the Judicial Council taking more responsibility for the AOC? Isn’t that essentially the problem? I agree it is nice the CJA is finally speaking . Since the Judicial Council met today what if anything happened to the CJA’s proposal? Sadly I’m guessing the CJA proposal ended up being voted down or tabled. Its time for the CJA to join the Alliance of California Judges to seek the only meaningful and positive change that can remedy all this- democratizing the Judicial Council !

    • I understand that Judge Vicencia’s comments were vilified in a coordinated attack. Further that Justice Huffman was heard to say that he would be “damned” before they change it’s (governance) structure. I would love to see a transcript of that portion of the Judicial Council meeting posted here.

  8. As noted by Amazed, it was rumored that two members of the Council supported the proposal, one abstained and the remainder condemned the action indicating that the Council should not be involved in such oversight. The CJA’s inaction in recent years starting with the presidency of Jim Mize, have caused it to be an impotent organization. Maybe President Vicencia’s leadership might help turn it around.
    Lando is right, the only way to right the ship is by Constitutional Amendment to allow the Council to be democratized. How can anyone within the Judiciary oppose democracy???

  9. Cheryl Miller’s Daily Recorder article this morning states: “Tuesday afternoon, Vickrey countered Vicencia by saying that AOC pay increases are already overseen by an elected judge: Chief Justice Ronald George.”

    Whoever oversees payroll decisions effectively controls the organization. Judge Vicencia is right in calling for oversight and control of the AOC (and, I would add, not just for payroll but all matters) to be placed in the Judicial Council as a whole. The Judicial Council, in turn, should be a more democratic body. This is the only way to restore confidence in the administration of the Judicial Branch.

  10. judicial observer

    Tim Fall,

    That the Chief Justice oversaw and approved these pay increases shows an appalling lack of leadership or understanding of the message his actions sent to the thousands of employees in the trial courts. It shows that being of a keen judicial mind does not equate to having any sense of how to run, lead or manage organizations, let alone a Branch of Government.

    That Mr. Vickrey tries to deflect the criticism of his indefensible management decision by throwing the Chief Justice under the proverbial bus is sad, but of little surprise. He is known as someone who has never taken personal responsibility for any negative action.

    The Chief Justice was not “elected” (well, actually voted to be retained in his position after a political appointment) to run the Judicial Council. That came as a side job to his position as the chief appellate justice on our highest court. And it was last done at a time when the Judicial Council was still viewed as a recommending body, not the monolithic power base it has become because of funding being moved from the county to the state during his “reign.” This power base is amplified through the growth in size and importance of the AOC, the staff to the Judicial Council, over the past decade.

    You are right. The judicial members of the branch (who run in contested elections every six years and are directly responsible to the public) should elect both the Chair of the Judicial Council and its members. That would be accountability. That would be something the public and those of us being governed could understand. As you said, that would be DEMOCRACY!

  11. The JC was never intended to oversee the administration of a statewide judicial system. It was established to adopt rules for practice and procedure. I doubt the drafters of the state constitution would have ever intended that one person (the CJ) would have effective authority to control the expenditure of billions of dollars. The problems the JC/AOC face in terms of dissension are the result of stakeholders not having a voice in the policy development process. In other words, a lack of democracy. As someone else said earlier, the Chief’s reluctance to make the JC more diverse and democratic is inexplicable.

    Carverization – see below

  12. “The model enables the board to focus on the larger issues, to delegate with clarity, to control management’s job without meddling, to rigorously evaluate the accomplishment of the organization; to truly lead its organization.”

    How can anyone on the Judicial Council honestly say that they act in and fulfull this role?

    In no way, shape or form do the council members rigorously evaluate the AOC. If they knew what goes on with contracting or employment practices, they would be appalled.

  13. Let us not be discouraged by the rantings of J Huffman, Mr. Bill’s blaming others, and the foregone conclusion of the JC vote. This is just the first salvo. If the CJA, the Alliance, individual judges and CEOs keep up the pressure, they will get somewhere.

    A suggestion for the CJA if you are going to donate the judge’s 5% salary reduction, donate to those court employees that had to take a pay cut due to furloughs or other budget cuts. And don’t ask the JCs permission.

    Would someone be so kind as to post the Recorders article from today?

  14. I applaud the CJA for stepping forward on this, but believe it’s not just the AOC pay issue that needs greater oversight. Much, much greater oversight is needed across the board in every area! Also, I wonder if addressing the JC might be akin to asking the fox to stop eating eggs from the hen house?

    I always admired the CA Judicial system, as it set the shining example for many other states. That is no longer the case, as I’m in shock & awe by the things I have learned and witnessed…..

    Courthouses closing while they proceed to build new courthouses? Unrestrained spending in non-essential areas while the fundamental services to the public suffer? Mistreatment of AOC employees who try to do the right thing & make a difference? Corruption in high ranks? It’s all so mind boggling and, yet, it remains unchecked.

    How in the world did CA implement this “dictatorship” structure within its judicial system? It directly contradicts the very essence of all that is fair and just, and what our judicial system is suppose to represent! As they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely!

  15. O come on! Justice Richard Huffman has some gall claiming the JCs governance principles are, what was it he said Tuesday, “reasonable.” I hear he did nothing but grumble and groan back in 2008 when they were being rewritten and that he implied the effort was just a big old waste of time and why couldn’t we just do things like we’ve always done? And, oh yeah, if those governance principles are so “reasonable,” how come Justice Huffman, chair of the council’s Executive and Planning Committee, doesn’t insist that the Administrative Director require the council’s advisory committees to submit real budgets for their activities as stated in those same Judicial Council Governance Policies (d. iii, page 10 of 12, shown below)?

    Excerpt, Judicial Council Governance Policies

    d. Advisory committee chairs are responsible, with the assistance of staff, to:

    i. Develop a realistic annual agenda for the advisory committee,
    consistent with the committee’s annual charge by the Judicial Council
    or Judicial Council internal committee;

    ii. Present the advisory committee’s recommendations to the Judicial

    iii. Discuss with the Administrative Director or his/her designee appropriate staffing and other resources for projects within the advisory committee’s agenda; and

    iv. Submit recommendations with respect to advisory committee

    And don’t try telling us that those advisory committee “annual agendas” currently being churned out on a Simon Simple template are the same as a real work plan with a carefully thought out budget. No way.

    One more thing before it slips my mind: if accountability is so important to Justice Huffman, how come those same advisory committees haven’t had the periodic reviews recommended in the California Rules of Courts? Remember them, the reviews that are supposed to tell the council if those committees are even necessary anymore? How long has it been? Is this what Justice Huffman means by JC ‘oversight’ and governance?

    O Com’on.

    As someone else put it in writing here, Justice Huffman has “been on the council since the Baby Jesus was in the manger.” His ideas on governance boil down to — I’ve been here forever and “I’ll be damned,” if I’m gonna tolerate change!

    It’s too bad so sad that those ideas are as dated as the Justice’s coiffure.

    Time for change.

  16. Justice Huffman’s behavior, and his language, in responding to Judge Vicencia was inappropriate and unbecoming of a sitting justice. It might do Justice Huffman good, as others here have jested here, to be apprenticed to governance guru, John Carver. Maybe he’d learn how to be more respectful of what others have to say.

    • eunicelmn: I definitely agree! I’m a firm believer that if one wishes to garner respect, they must first give it. Bump that up several notches for those in influential political positions! It’s impossible for me to personally support those that do not set a good example. Thus, I personally choose to support the Alliance, and all that they seem to represent. In summary, that would be the people, whether they agree with me on a personal level or not! (Democracy rules no matter what in my eyes!)

      On a side note: I’ve always believed that one must consider and respect those that disagree with them, if one is to ever expected to make progress. Historically speaking, if mankind had not done so, imagine where we would be now! In the dark ages, where the Chief, the judicial counsel and the upper AOC management now reside!