Judicial Wars: A Revolt in the Council?

After all the attention the AOC has gotten these past few months, nobody attending the Judicial Council’s meeting on the 15th expected it to be anything but boring. And the Council did not disappoint when Judge Michael Vicencia, current president of the California Judges Association and a LA Superior Court judge, announced that the CJA was urging the Council to take more responsibility and oversight of the AOC, especially in light of media coverage of the raises the AOC gave to staff members in one of the worst fiscal years the California judicial system has ever faced.

As I’ve posted before, in his letter Judge Vicencia stated that, “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.” Needless to say Judge Vicencia’s pleas for greater accountability were as welcome to the majority of the Judicial Council members as the orphan Oliver was welcome by the board of the workhouse when he asked for more food.

Judge Richard Huffman was so peeved by Judge Vicencia’s request he interrupted Justice George midsentence so that he could say his piece and lay into Judge Vicencia and the CJA for their position. He also lit into the media by saying:

“I’ll be damned if I’m of a mood to support some major overhaul of the Judicial Council’s governance policy because of some newspaper article that caused some judges to get angry and the CJA to react.”

Judge Huffman’s position was backed by a majority of his fellow Judicial Council members who showed their knack for staying the course by supporting the AOC as Cheryl Miller for the Daily Recorder reports.

Vicencia called on the council to take control of the AOC’s salary scales and top managers’ compensation packages.

“My suggestion was that instead of just leaving that up to the chief justice, that should be debated in the Judicial Council,” Vicencia said after the meeting. “Elected judges should be the ones to make those decisions.”

But his proposal was immediately shot down by other council members who equated the idea to micromanaging. Chief Justice Ronald George and others blamed the media for spreading “disinformation” about the AOC’s actions and treating the agency “like a pinata.”

In slapping down Vicencia’s proposal, the council, on a majority voice vote, ultimately adopted a hastily drafted resolution expressing its support for the AOC’s personnel compensation policies.

Ah, yes. When all else fails. Blame the messenger. How unrefreshingly typical of the Judicial Council. I don’t know why I should expect any different.

But I must commend Judge Vicencia and the CJA for having the nerve to stand up to the JC and the AOC. After facing the ire of the Judicial Council members Judge Vicencia was quoted in the article as saying “My fear is that judges and the public are going to quickly lose confidence in the branch’s ability to manage its finances.” I really hate to break it to you, Judge, but any confidence people had in the judicial branch was lost AGES ago. Still, as they say in recovery, acknowledging you have a problem is the first step.

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24 responses to “Judicial Wars: A Revolt in the Council?

  1. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    Initially we did not support democratization of the Judicial Council due to fears that it might be paralyzed by politics. We now feel that if standing judges from around the state were allowed to run for these positions as democratically elected members of the Judicial Council that the public interests would be much better served.

    Todays Judicial Council is one of the last vestages of the “good ol boy” club left in California government and believe that there is ample evidence that absolute power corrupts absolutely and that the Judicial Council themselves is out of touch with the CJA, the ACJ, the unions, AOC employees, the state legislature, the state senate and the public at large and that more and more parties are distancing themselves from this governance model. Should there be another hearing on the committee on accountability in light of all that has transpired and all that has been exposed, that it would be negligent and irresponsible for any judge to support “staying the course” given the AOC has already struck a number of icebergs and is headed into an ice field.

    We’ve come 180 degrees on this in light of all that has been publicly exposed. As AOC employees we question the need for building new court houses that the state cannot afford to man. We question the use of DOD contractors to provide out-of-state jobs. We question other DOD contractors hiring a whole staff of H1B’s to write a boondoggle software case management system. We question DOD contractors maintaining court houses.

    In 1960 President of the United States Dwight David Eisenhower in his farewell address stated that the biggest threat to American Democracy wasn’t the Soviet Union or Red China.

    The biggest threat was the unrequested influence of the Military Industrial Complex.

    Fifty years later, Iraq , Afganistan, Carte Blanche support of the State of Israel. 40,000 troops still in Korea 50 years after the conflict ended, 40,000 still in Japan 64 years after the armistice ending WW2.

    President Eisenhower was spot on but even a man of his stature got very little accomplished.

    Bottom line : There is big money in conflict.

    There is also big money in government contracts

  2. The reaction of Justice Huffman to the tepid request of Mike Vicencia, which were not very judicious by the way, is Exhibit “A” for the proposition that the membership of the JC needs to be cleaned out. I am hopeful that the CJA may be changing directions after having proved to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the AOC for the past five years. The rise of the ACJ may have finally forced the CJA to examine why they were losing membership and support. The two organizations need to work together to succeed in their quest to not only represent California’s Judges, but to ensure that justice is served to the public at the local level. Justice is served in the courtrooms of the fifty-eight counties throughout this State, not in an ivory tower in San Francisco…

  3. Miss Manners would not have approved of Justice Huffman’s behavior at the last Judicial Council meeting.

    Interrupting is not acceptable behavior. The use of term “damned” is crude and offensive. I doubt Justice Huffman would allow this term to be used in his court. So why is it acceptable at a Judicial Council meeting?

    When the President of CJA speaks he is speaking on behalf of over 90% of the California Judges and even if his opinions are “misinformed” the proper thing to do is to let him speak.

    Justice Huffman should get on the telephone and call Judge Vicencia and apologize.

  4. Justice Huffman does not realize that he is outnumbered. But even miserly, cold, unfeeling, old and curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge went throught a conversion and redemption after being visited by four ghosts on Christmas Eve. There is hope for everyone.

  5. The Chief Justice draws an interesting analogy between the AOC and a pinata. A pinata is stuffed full of treats that rightfully belong to all who were invited to the party. It is not supposed to actually eat any of it itself.

  6. One has to question precisely why Judge Richard Huffman felt the need to respond in such a defensive manner, especially considering the merits of Judge Vicencia’s request. I suggest it’s because the Judicial Council, itself, is the one that needs greater oversight and he absolutely knows this!

    Based on the rumors that are bouncing off the walls across the state, there are unclean hands sitting on the Council.

    “I’ll be damned if I’m of a mood to support some major overhaul of the Judicial Council’s governance policy because of some newspaper article that caused some judges to get angry and the CJA to react.”

    How about overhauling the policy because it’s the right thing to do?

    Do you notice a repetitive behavioral pattern of what is happening within the Judicial Council and the AOC? That the “dictatorship” announces how things are going to be, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, and those that wish to remain in their subservient positions “stay the course” by just following along even when it flies in the face of justice!? Regardless of the entities involved, whether public or private business, or government, everything trickles down….

    The Judicial Council cares not to control the spending habits of the AOC, and the AOC cares not to control their own spending habits, or the spending habits of the contractors they hire. As I said before, everything trickles down…as the child is taught how to act by the actions of their parent(s).

    I’ll even be bold enough to say that, in light of the budget crisis and other factors involved here, I personally look at these AOC salary increases and compensation package awards as a form of a payoff for I honestly believe there is much to hide within the organization that is not get known.

    The council members did say one thing I agree with:

    That they “equated the idea to micromanaging….”

    And based on the unrestrained corruption within the AOC, the AOC could definitely use more than a bit of micromanagement!

    Again, I suggest that we have a dictatorship within the California judicial system. Pardon me for saying this but lately my mind is comparing the developments here to what recently transpired in Iran’s elections. Too many similarities for my comfort with the oppression being displayed against what is right and just.

    Get out of line by asking for or expecting what is, or should be, obviously warranted, and get slapped down! I thought this was America?!!? I still can’t believe all of this is happening and I see a good made-for-TV mini series here, or a blockbuster fiction movie. Sadly, this ordeal is not fiction, regardless of what the Judicial Council and/or the AOC want you to believe otherwise!

    I’d like to know who, specifically, on the council supported Judge Vicencia’s request, and who did not.

    Sorry for the length here, but posting on this blog seems to serve as a form of therapy for me lately! Can anyone relate? lol

  7. I suspect the Chief Justice confused “pinata” with “punching bag”.

    “Punching bag” is defined as stuffed bag which is hung up so that it can be punched for exercise.

    “Stuffed bag” is not a bad description of the AOC come to think of it. Maybe that is why the Chief Justice, a man of letters, did not use the term.

  8. How chillingly Orwellian are the chief’s comments about “disinformation” about the AOC! And I love the pinata comment….poor AOC, being picked on again….sniff!
    Since I am not a supporter of the AOC which makes me shrill and uninformed, allow me to fullfill my role and if we can be rude ala J Huffman let me say this to him:
    Good gawd old man, shut your bloomin piehole! The days of good ole white boys like you are soon to be thankfully over and you know it and you are running scared.
    That is why he spoke in anger and defensively.
    I am amazed the CJA’s item made to the agenda at all frankly.

  9. Fortunately, the horrible attitude of the CJ/BV/AOC and the Judicial Council was there for all to see on Tuesday. Unfortunately, only those inside the “beltway” of the court system were there to see it. The AOC and their “running dogs” (the term is used intentionally to describe
    the sycophants that inhabit the halls of the AOC – judges AND staff alike) count on their attitudes and actions being closely held and scripted so the public and Legislature never learn anything more than what it wants them to know.

    Transparency is the myth trotted out when the AOC wants to appear to be a regular and open government body. The truth is just the opposite. They cannot tolerate dissent. They abhor any voice other than its own. They attack all that criticize them. Make no mistake, this is intentional on their part. And make no mistake, they have been successful because of it. It will take much more than this blog and some its brave contributors to lance this boil. Major surgery is needed. Let’s hope that what we saw on Tuesday is the beginning of the cure and not the end of a noble experiment in opening the book on this diseased body.

    Oh, and as for Judge Friedman’s motion to nunc pro tunc the decison of the AOC and authorize major pay raises (and thereby respond to the negative press that it generated), nunc pro tunc means to allow an act to have been done which lawfully should have been done earlier but through inadvertence or mistake was not done.

    So does that mean that the AOC should have run the pay raises by the Judicial Council in the first instance (Judge Vicencia believes that they should in the future but was howled down for saying so) or does it mean that this was simply an effort to cover for Bill V. and the Chief when they are asked to explain themselves for this debacle in the Legislature? You be the judge!

  10. PS In case anyone wonders, Judge Friedman and the leadership spoke ahead of the meeting about his making his “spontaneous” motion. I hope that there is no surprise there. Everything is scripted for public consumption

    • justinianscode

      In this excerpt from the transcript of the 12/15 Judicial Council meeting it sounds like Judge Friedman is saying the idea for a resolution in support of the AOC’s payroll decisions had just come to him during that meeting. Is that not the case?

      “I HAVE A THOUGHT. I’M NOT SURE, CHIEF, IF THIS IS EVEN AN ORDER. BUT LET ME JUST PRESENT IT BASED UPON WHAT WE’VE JUST HEARD. AND I AGREE PERCEPTION IS IMPORTANT. AS IS OUR GOVERNMENT’S PRINCIPLES. AND MY THOUGHT IS TO MAKE CLEAR TO THE PUBLIC WE SERVE TO THE JUDGES AND THE EMPLOYEES OF OUR BRANCH AND TO THE MEDIA — I’D LIKE TO SUGGEST A RESOLUTION, WHICH I THINK IS CONSISTENT WITH OUR GOVERNANCE PRINCIPLES AND I THINK ADDRESSES THE PERCEPTION ISSUES OUT THERE AS TO WHERE THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL STANDS THAT BASED UPON THE REPORT PRESENTED BY OUR ADMINISTRATIVE DIRECTOR, THE LETTER THAT BILL SENT TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE BRANCH. I THINK IT WAS DATED THE 11TH OF THIS MONTH, BASED UPON THE ACTIONS THAT THE CHIEF TOOK, THAT THIS JUDICIAL COUNCIL SUPPORTS THE PERSONNEL COMPENSATION POLICIES THAT HAVE BEEN ADOPTED BY THE AOC FOR THE YEARS IN QUESTION. ’07, ’08, 08, ’09 AND IS APPROVED BY THE CHIEF JUSTICE. I DON’T WANT THIS TO BE A PRECEDENT. BUT I THINK GIVEN THE CONCERNS THAT HAVE BEEN RAISED BY MANY, I WOULD LIKE TO PUT — IF IT IS IN ORDER, PROPOSE A RESOLUTION AND MAKE IT CLEAR THAT THIS JUDICIAL COUNCIL STANDS BEHIND THOSE ACTIONS.”

      • “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” — George Orwell

  11. PS Mermaid, I am with you on the blog therapy!

  12. Foolishly, in a burst of enthusiasm I voluntarily waived my salary through June of next year. I have requested that under the circumstances I could no longer support the AOC and requested that the withdrawals be terminated and I be allowed to donate the appropriate after tax deductions to the Semper Fi fund which provides financial support to the families of wounded Marines. I was informed that my withdrawals were irrevocable. Why under the circumstances they take this position is baffling. I know where this leaves me. I guess P.T. Barnum was right.

    • Dundee Dog: What are they basing their position on from a legal standpoint? It’s YOUR salary. I’d highly recommend consulting an attorney post haste. Hey, maybe Mr. Paul’s attorneys might be good ones to contact? At least you wouldn’t need to fill them in on the character of who you are dealing with, as surely they already know that part?

  13. Dundee Dog: says who? Since when? get a lawyer to write a letter to the AOC questioning the “irrevocable” status. Question the state controller about it. I bet it won’t be after that. Man o man o man. I got even madder today after reading the unedited transcript of the JC meeting. Totally totally clueless and the JC is stuffed with brown nosers and butt kissers, which we already knew but it irritated the heck outa me to read it. Shame, shame on them. Please read it you will be shocked at the disregard/disrespect the council gives to trial court judges, the press, and anyone that chooses to disagree. The praise for Mr. Bill made me want to, well you know. Like I said, these folks never cease to amaze me!

  14. I am still not clear what actions “this council” is standing behind? The Chief’s approval of salary increases, or the basis of — and need for — the individual decisions made by the Administrative Director? But hey, here is resolution: tomorrow will still be December 2009. These actions took place months and months ago.

  15. Thank you Claire. You have demonstrated how the JC has neither governance nor control over the AOC.

    A question: If the CJ appoints the AD, can he remove him on his own authority?

    • John Henry

      Your question highlights the problem with current governance structure.

      Whether the CJ can remove the AD on his own or it requires the approval of the Judicial Council doesn’t really matter. The result would be the same, as the JC members are appointed by the CJ and basically serve at his pleasure. If the CJ wanted the AD removed, it would happen. If he doesn’t, it won’t.

  16. Oh John, I’m blushing.

    I don’t know the answer. I also don’t know if the JC reappoints the director every year (they should, simply as a matter of business and good government because AOC performance, along with council composition, changes year to year). And of course the fuzzy-sounding CA constitution provision regarding the director serving “at it’s (the JC’s) pleasure” is vague at best.

    And maybe someone with better eyes than me or Adobe can find the words salary or salaries in the council’s governance policies. We looked but found neither word, and we see pretty well.

    Sweet dreams.

  17. peppermint patty

    Thought I would pass this along from a fellow AOCW reader who does not want to be named. With respect to Paul Revere and any necessary apologies to Longfellow …

    Happy Holidays!

    The Midnight Ride of the AOC Watcher

    Listen good citizens and if you come near
    The tale of the AOC Watcher you shall hear
    How in late summer of two thousand and nine
    Hardly a good citizen is not now alive
    Who doesn’t remember that fateful time and year
    When in the shadow of the Citadel the AOC Watcher did appear.

    He said to his friends, “If the Storm Troopers march
    Out of the Citadel against the people tonight,
    Hang a light aloft in the highest arch
    Of the Citadel tower as a signal light,
    One if by land, two if by sea;
    And I on the opposite shore watching will be,
    Ready to ride and spread the alarm
    Through every city, town, village and farm,
    For the common folk to be up and to stand
    And speak the truth across all the land.”

    The Watcher then said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
    Silently rowed across to the east side shore,
    Just as the moon rose over the Frisco Bay,
    Where swinging wide at her moorings lay,
    The Vickrey, Citadel man-of-war;
    And the Overholt, frigate, hard at its side.
    Phantom ships both, with each mast and spar
    Across the moon like a prison bar,
    Huge black hulks that were magnified
    By their own dark reflections in the putrid tide.

    Meanwhile, the Watcher’s friends through hallways and floors
    Wander and watch, with careful ears,
    Till in the silence around them is heard
    The sound of lies and hushed whispers at the Council door,
    The humming of shredders and the shuffling of truth,
    And the measured tread of the Imperial March,
    Going fast to the Vickrey and Overholt down at the shore.

    Then they climbed the dark tower of the Citadel,
    By steel stairs, with stealthy tread,
    To the highest arch overhead,
    And startled the secrets from their hidden perch
    In the catacomb rafters that round them made
    Masses and moving shapes of shade,
    By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
    To the highest window of the Citadel wall,
    Where they paused to listen and look away
    Across the City by the Bay
    And the moonlight flowing over all.

    Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the Citadel dead,
    Where the Storm Troopers buried them beneath the hill,
    Shrouded in silence so deep and so still,
    That they could hear, like a warning cry,
    The watchful night-wind, as it went
    Creeping along that haunted hill,
    Whispering to each, “To speak was to die!”
    A moment only they feel the spell,
    Of that place, and the secrets, and the heavy dread,
    Of the dark tower and the haunting dead;
    For suddenly all their thoughts are turned as one
    On a shadowy something far away,
    Where the river widens to meet the Bay,
    A flicker of light that bends and floats
    On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

    Meanwhile, impatient to post and ride,
    Booted and spurred, with a determined stride
    On the opposite shore the Watcher did stand.
    Now softly he patted his swift steed’s side,
    Now he gazed far and near at the lay of the land,
    Then, impetuous, stamped at the ground.
    But mostly he watched with eager search
    The high tower arches of the Citadel wall
    As it rose above the graves on the hill,
    Haunted and spectral and somber and still.
    And then as he looks, on the Citadel’s height
    A glimmer, and then a bright gleam of light!
    He springs to the saddle, and his swift steed he turns,
    But then lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
    A second bright light in the tower arch burns.

    A hurry of hoof beats through village streets,
    A shadow in the moonlight, a shape in the dark,
    And beneath, from the cobblestones, in passing, a spark
    Struck out by a swift steed flying fearless and fleet;
    That was all! And yet, through the shadows and light,
    The fate of Truth and Justice was riding that night;
    And the spark struck out by that swift steed in its flight,
    Kindled the common folk into flame with its heat.
    The Watcher left the village and mounted the steep,
    And beneath him, tranquil and broad and silent and deep,
    Lay the River of Truth, meeting the tides;
    Fast past the alders that stood at the edge,
    Now soft on the sand, now hard on the ledge,
    Is heard the echo of his swift steed as he rides.

    It was twelve by the village clock
    When he crossed the bridge into Berkeley town,
    He heard the crowing of the cock,
    And the barking of the magistrate’s dog,
    And felt the damp of the river fog,
    That rises there after the sun goes down.

    It was one by the village clock,
    When he galloped into Lafayette.
    He saw the gilded weathercock
    Spin in the moonlight as he passed,
    And the courthouse windows, black and bare,
    Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
    As if they already stood aghast
    At the shameful work they would look upon.

    It was two by the village clock,
    When he crossed the bridge into Concord town.
    He heard the ticking of the clock,
    And the whistle of birds among the trees,
    And felt the faint breath of the morning breeze
    As it stirred across the village square.
    And one was safe and asleep in his bed
    Who at the crossroads would be first to fall,
    Who that day would be lying dead,
    Pierced by a Citadel musket ball.

    You know the rest, from what you have read
    How the Citadel Storm Troopers fired and fled,
    How the common folk gave them ball for ball,
    From behind each fence post and village wall,
    Chasing the Storm Troopers down the lane,
    Then crossing the fields to emerge again
    Under the trees at the turn of the road,
    And only pausing to post and re-load.

    So through the night the Watcher still rides;
    And so through the night is heard a cry of alarm
    To every city, town, village and farm,
    A cry of defiance, of courage, and not one of fear,
    A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
    And a name that shall echo for Truth evermore!
    For, borne on the night-wind of the Watcher’s ride,
    Comes now at last the fast turning tide.
    In this hour of darkness and peril and need,
    The people have wakened and now listen to heed
    The hurried hoof beats of the Watcher’s swift steed,
    Knowing the time to stand up for Truth and Justice draws near,
    And the Citadel lies crumbling, cowering in fear.

  18. Mermaid & Court Flea: I am attempting through the court supervisor to see if they will back and allow me to rescind. I am also pursing assistance through the CJA and Alliance. I just cannot imagine the AOC not allowing me to rescind to allow me to give money to families of wounded Marines. Hmmm…. Marine Corps vs. wine and cheese parties in the Presidental Suite…wonder how that will play out in the press…does anyone else think that we are living in an alternate universe?

  19. Dundee Dog, well if you are going up the chain of command on this you better kick up to your CEO who should be able to get er done for ya.
    Like Mermaid said it is YOUR money no matter what the heck you want to do with it….even spend it at Nordstroms.
    We are not living in an alternate universe, the AOC is!
    Oh and by the way if you read the transcript of the council meeting you may have noticed the cheif mentioning “folks in their pajamas blogging at night” or something similar. you think he reads AOC Watcher? 🙂

  20. Pingback: Judicial Wars: Judge Huffman’s Response to CJA Letter « AOC Watcher