Judicial Wars: Alliance of California Judges Sends Letter to California Judges

The Alliance of California Judges (ACJ) stepped up its efforts to recruit more judges to its cause by sending out a letter urging judges to join them. In the letter the new judges association lists off all of the reasons why they believe the formation of the group became necessary among which include the following:

We believe that the Legislature should reaffirm the rights of the local trial courts by putting into law the Trial Court Bill of Rights which the Judicial Council failed to adopt.

We also believe that the Legislature should establish a separate Trial Court Advisory Group, consisting of trial judges elected by judges from the 58 county trial courts, with provisions to balance the interests of smaller and larger courts, which could advise the Judicial Council, provide oversight to the AOC, and report upon the judicial budget and judicial affairs to the public, the Legislature, the Governor, and the Judicial Council itself. This group would also serve the original purposes of the Trial Court Budget Commission in the original 1998 state court funding legislation. These judges would volunteer, and would have independent staff assistance provided by funds already allocated to the AOC.

Finally, the Alliance believes that the Judicial Council should encourage the Legislature 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 letter says that a website for the group will go live some time next week. I wish the ACJ the best and it is my sincerest hope that more judges will take up the association’s cause. I’m posting the letter for AOCW readers which you can read after the jump.

Dear Colleague:

We are writing to you asking that you join the Alliance of California Judges, if you are not already a member. The events of the past two weeks make it imperative that judges stand up for oversight by elected trial court judges regarding trial court management and budgeting.

On September 11, 2009, in response to the unprecedented financial crisis now facing our judicial branch, a new organization of judges in the State was formed called the Alliance of California Judges. In less than three months, by word of mouth, we now have 156 judges from 20 counties who have joined us.

Our organization does not stand in opposition to any existing judicial organization. Many of our members are also members of the California Judges Association. In fact, we applaud CJA President, Los Angeles Judge Michael Vicencia, for his position at the December 15, 2009 Judicial Council meeting where he called for greater oversight by the Judicial Council over AOC salary raises. Judge Vicencia has also courageously stated that judges should make their voluntary donation locally and withdraw from the AOC’s salary waiver program. The Alliance agrees with these positions, but believes that much greater oversight is required. When the President of CJA expresses a respectful and heartfelt position, and proposes a very reasonable and, frankly, restrained, proposal for further oversight by judges, and is met with the response from a Judicial Council leader that “I’ll be damned if I’m in a mood of some major overhaul of the judicial governance policy because of some newspaper article that caused some judges to get angry…,” there is a serious problem of governance. As judges, we cannot blindly ignore repeated editorial demands for audit of the AOC, demands for transparency from an angry Legislature, serious public questions as to the competency and trustworthiness of the AOC as an organization, growing public anger, and internal dissension among judges.

The Alliance exists to provide a very targeted voice on governance and budgeting.

We are not advocating any ultimate budget outcome for our courts. We are urging reaffirmation of the primacy of local court management mandated by Government Code section 77001. We advocate full participation of our local courts in the critical budget and management decisions our courts are facing.

For the first time in our state’s history, the courts of our state have been ordered to close for budget reasons, something that did not happen even in the Great Depression. The judiciary is in
crisis. Every judge must be involved in the solution to this crisis.

Judges are worried and are now arguing publicly over management and over budget priorities for operations, computers, and new court construction. The reason judges are even having this debate is because local courts have had too little input about judicial management and budgeting.

Public concerns over the competency of court management have now erupted into media demands for audit and accountability of the Administrative Office of the Courts, and demands from the other branches of government for audit and disclosure. We are very concerned that these demands threaten an independent judiciary and the separation of powers. All judges, regardless of their personal philosophies or personal affiliations, should respond by calling for an open debate with full participation of our trial courts on our budget priorities.

In 1998, the Legislature changed future court funding from the counties to the state. In doing so, the Legislature acknowledged the need for strong and independent local court management, giving preference to local flexibility. The Legislature asked that the Judicial Council minimize regulations over county courts. The Legislature also asked that the Judicial Council adopt a Trial Court Bill of Financial Management Rights. The Judicial Council has never adopted that Bill of Rights. Our trial courts were given little or no input into the budget decisions that closed our public courts.

The current governance model does not adequately address the decentralized system of trial court management mandated by Government Code section 77001. We are alarmed that proposed legislative changes somehow emanated from the AOC during last year’s budget process which would have amended Government Code section 77001, eliminating a decentralized system of management, eliminating local authority and management of the courts, eliminating local authority over trial court budget allocations, eliminating local control over personnel, and eliminating the right of each trial court to elect its presiding judge and select its CEO.

Also in 1998, the Legislature required that budget decisions for the courts would be reviewed by a Trial Court Budget Commission. In 2002, as part of a very complex bill, the Trial Court Budget Commission disappeared. Now ultimate trial court budgeting is determined directly by central management in San Francisco .

These changes have resulted in a court budgeting process that has evolved from a public process conducted locally, to one that is remote and controlled by the AOC. This budget management from the top down excludes effective debate and consensus. As judges, we know that a fair hearing is just as important as outcome. How vested do you think any litigant would be in the fairness of the process in your court if you took the bench and announced that you did not need to hear from anyone because you had already made up your mind based upon a report your staff wrote? We also believe that strong appellate courts and meaningful appellate process depend upon the vitality and independence of the trial courts. It is time to restore public confidence and accountability by providing for input from a group governed democratically by elected judges.

We believe that the Legislature should reaffirm the rights of the local trial courts by putting into law the Trial Court Bill of Rights which the Judicial Council failed to adopt.

We also believe that the Legislature should establish a separate Trial Court Advisory Group, consisting of trial judges elected by judges from the 58 county trial courts, with provisions to balance the interests of smaller and larger courts, which could advise the Judicial Council, provide oversight to the AOC, and report upon the judicial budget and judicial affairs to the public, the Legislature, the Governor, and the Judicial Council itself. This group would also serve the original purposes of the Trial Court Budget Commission in the original 1998 state court funding legislation. These judges would volunteer, and would have independent staff assistance provided by funds already allocated to the AOC.

Finally, the Alliance believes that the Judicial Council should encourage the Legislature 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.

Please join this effort. Our new website will be operational next week, and we will send you the address of that site. At this time we are asking for no more than your statement of membership indicating your support. You may indicate that you are a member simply by contacting any board member named below, at the email address or any telephone number indicated. To confirm your membership, we ask that you provide us with a preferred email contact address to receive membership information. If you wish to join confidentially, please be assured that we do not and will not publish or make public the name or names of any member without express consent.

Further if you have any ethics questions, now or in the future, we receive ethics advice from Justice Thomas E. Hollenhorst, an Alliance board member, and Judge Julie Conger (ret.). Justice Hollenhorst is an Associate Justice on the Fourth DCA. Judge Julie Conger is a retired Superior Court judge ( Alameda County Superior Court 25 years) currently serving as an Assigned Judge. Both Justice Hollenhorst and Judge Conger served on the CJA Ethics Committee as committee members for nearly 20 years, and both served as Chair and Vice-Chair. Both have answered several hundred ethics inquires from judges throughout the state via the Ethics Committee Hotline, have participated in authorship of several Formal Ethics Opinions of the Committee, and have taught judicial ethics for CJER and CJA for over 20 years. Justice Hollenhorst and Judge Conger helped develop and have taught all four versions of the qualifying ethics programs for CJER and they have individually written and taught numerous Ethics Elective programs over the past twenty years.

We look forward to seeing your name added to our confidential roster of judges and justices. Your statement of membership will help us to reach the goals outlined in this letter.

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12 responses to “Judicial Wars: Alliance of California Judges Sends Letter to California Judges

  1. judicial observer

    What interesting concepts. A Bill of Rights for local courts. Trial court judges elected by the citizens of their counties who want a say in how their county’s courts are run on behalf of the citizens. The governed wanting a say in who governs them and how decisions are made. And a responsible overview of the spending of the taxpayer’s money. Think I’ll sign up.

  2. WOW! This is great! I’d sign up if I could but, alas, I’m only a lowly taxpaying citizen who has no voice in the system that governs me! Hopefully, that will change! Long live the Alliance!!

  3. ……And to a third group, I represent something that can potentially rock the very foundation of an entire branch of government.

    Meus manuum es tersus.

    Long live the ACJ!

    Michael Paul

  4. To Judge Goldstein, Judge Fall, Judge Horan, and the Alliance of California Judges:

    First of all, thank for remembering the employees of the AOC.

    Second, I must confess that I have a question and, no, it is not a rhetorical one. My question pertains to the following statement from Justice Huffman’s letter to the CJA: “ … oversight of AOC compensation is vested in the Chief Justice, who is elected, and the council does not believe it can or should attempt to supervise the Chief Justice.”

    Conceding for the moment that the Chief Justice’s colleagues on the Judicial Council cannot and should not “attempt to supervise the Chief Justice” in the Chief Justice’s judicial capacity on the State Supreme Court, the Chief Justice’s role at issue here is in his administrative capacity for the AOC.

    My question then, is this: If the Chief Justice, in his administrative capacity for the AOC (which there is no judicial immunity), is not answerable or accountable for his administrative actions within the AOC to his colleagues sitting on Judicial Council then who, if anyone, is the Chief Justice answerable or accountable to in his administrative capacity? The Governor? The State Legislature? The State Bar? The Attorney General’s Office? The Federal Bureau of Investigation? No one?

    If nothing else, as an elected public official, one would think the Chief Justice would at the very least be accountable under the following:

    “… Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    Or did the Judicial Council pass a resolution re-writing the Declaration of Independence and we all missed it?

    Wendy Darling

    • OMG Wendy Darling! You are brilliant! I didn’t even think of this along these particular lines….and I’d love to know the answer, too!

  5. Dialed: 510-684-8706

    It was a private number dialing me.

    “This is Michael Paul”

    “Hello Mr. Paul. I am—- Let’s just call me Mr. Green”

    “Well Hello Mr. Green, how can I help you?”

    ” I just wanted you to know that I read your blog entry and want you to know I know that everything you wrote is true”

    “Yes, and……?”

    “Your lead counsel is Nancy Hersh, the Daughter of Leroy Hersh?”

    “Yes….”

    “Tell Ms. Hersh to not be suprised by the anonymous money order and evidence being sent her way to support your case”

    “Really, what for?”

    “Mr. Paul, you have no idea what you have stumbled into.

    Unlike many others, it wasn’t good enough for you to just look the other way like many of your coworkers.

    Just know that there are those within the AOC and in the trial courts that are watching these events unfold and are cheering you on.

    Don’t be discouraged.

    They will try to do everything possible to discredit you.

    They will do everything possible to make your life a miserable hell.

    They will tell your coworkers to steer clear of you – and they already have.

    You have carefully and methodically hung them and its only a matter of time before they fall.

    I want to help.

    I am encouraging others to help.

    You have a very rough road ahead of you Mr. Paul.

    You have no idea how rough and lonely that road is going to get.

    Just know that you and your attorneys are doing the right thing and these things I do are just a token of my support.

    Keep the faith, brother. I have to go now.”

    “Wow. Okay, I will tell her”

    “Have a great weekend Mr. Paul and keep your head low.”

    click.

  6. I would love to see a response to Wendy Darling’s question. I wonder the same.

    Well hot dog I think Superman just arrived in the form of the ACJ. Great letter Judges. Michael Paul, glad to have you back and Mr. Green is right on. Very cool. Hang in there.

  7. Michael, as long as Mr. Green is not using Shapiro funds …. mazel tov.

  8. And Wendy, I do know that the Chief is accountable to the voters of California. There will also be some accountability issues that he must deal with if the feds start launching an investigation and hand out indictments to people within the AOC or on the JC. No one gets a free ride in state government, and no one is above the law.

  9. Seems more like a problem than a riddle to me! If you read the governance policies, the Director has complete control of the AOC. The Director is only accountable to the Chief Justice, but the Chief seems to think everything is fine (and apparently he too is not accountable to anyone!).

    I only think change will occur from this kind of investigation and scrutiny. And when those in power realize that they can’t control a dam that has broken, they will turn on each other so fast to jump in the current that your head will explode.

    And I like to think of the Chief in a Snuggie, not pajamas, when he reads this blog. Sweet dreams Ron.

  10. New article published in the Sacramento Bee today, Sunday, December 20th, 2009: Courts’ IT Project numbers are fishy; http://www.sacbee.com.

  11. Wow! Sorry I missed all the fun at last weeks JC meeting (been away a few days). Can somebody tell me how Justice Huffman, he of the potty mouth, has remained on the council for so long? What is it, 12+ yrs? Longer?