Judicial Wars: Judge Huffman’s Response to CJA Letter

Judge Richard Huffman issued a letter to the members of the Judicial Council yesterday in which he continued to refute the position of the California Judges Association that the JC should take more of an oversight role in the AOC. As I detailed in my earlier post on the CJA’s letter, that suggestion was so unwelcome to Judge Huffman it inspired him to say

“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.”

In his letter Judge Huffman continued to assert his position that the Judicial Council should not heed the CJA’s or anyone else’s request for more AOC oversight.  In fact, Judge Huffman said that the policies in place were more than enough to deal with oversight of the AOC.

The council has a long-established governance policy regarding oversight of the AOC. That policy was revised in 2008 and you can also access that on the California Courts Web site. After significant debate at this week’s meeting, the council declined to change its policies and specifically declined to micromanage each salary adjustment for an AOC staff member or manager. The council was told that elected judges should oversee all salary issues for the AOC, thus the council should change its policies. We declined to do so because 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. At the end of the debate the council, with one dissenting vote and one abstention, expressed its confidence in the manner in which the salary adjustments were made and in the process by which the Chief Justice oversees the compensation practices of the AOC as well as those of the appellate courts.

Ummm…so I guess what Judge Huffman is saying is that even if the JC wanted to deal with the issue of AOC compensation, they couldn’t because only the Chief Justice had the power to deal with that issue.  Is it just me or did Judge Huffman basically point his finger to the Chief?  I’m just saying.

The one passage I found difficult to read without laughing is the one Judge Huffman wrote in closing his letter.

A summary of the recent council meeting is being prepared by the internal committee chairs of the council and we will distribute it shortly. We are continuing to work to improve our process of providing information to the courts regarding the issues before the council and the actions it takes. There will likely never be 100 percent agreement among our diverse membership, nor should we ever expect that. What we do hope to promote is debate that is based on the most accurate information available. We will not always succeed to everyone’s satisfaction, but hopefully through a process of discussion we will continue to improve the process.

Uh-huh.  A “process of discussion” that more than likely involves people bringing suggestions and the Judicial Council ignoring them.  There’s a process of discussion you can believe in.

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

I am writing to you in my capacity as chair of the Judicial Council’s Executive and Planning Committee. I am sure that you are aware of the letter and press release issued by the California Judges Association (CJA) on Tuesday afternoon, calling for greater oversight of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) by the members of the Judicial Council. My purpose is to respond to that request.
The request from CJA appears to be prompted by an article in the Daily Journal that implied the AOC was giving inappropriate raises to its staff during the hard times our courts are facing. The letter calls on the council to publicly debate any salary increases for its management staff and to exercise greater scrutiny of the AOC compensation practices.

Frankly, many of the council members were surprised by the CJA release issued after the council meeting. The issue of oversight was raised at the council’s business meeting by the CJA president and debated at length during the meeting. You can listen to the debate by accessing the Judicial Council meetings page on the California Courts Web site. During that debate several issues were discussed. First, the actual facts of the salary adjustments were explained, and they are well set forth in the December 11, 2009, memorandum and attachment you received from Bill Vickrey, the Administrative Director. Further, council members were advised that the compensation process for the AOC is under the direct supervision of the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice approved all of the adjustments in 2007–2008 and 2008–2009.

The council has a long-established governance policy regarding oversight of the AOC. That policy was revised in 2008 and you can also access that on the California Courts Web site. After significant debate at this week’s meeting, the council declined to change its policies and specifically declined to micromanage each salary adjustment for an AOC staff member or manager. The council was told that elected judges should oversee all salary issues for the AOC, thus the council should change its policies. We declined to do so because 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. At the end of the debate the council, with one dissenting vote and one abstention, expressed its confidence in the manner in which the salary adjustments were made and in the process by which the Chief Justice oversees the compensation practices of the AOC as well as those of the appellate courts.

One final comment is appropriate. The CJA release and subsequent statements attributed to them in the press urging judges to withdraw from the voluntary salary waiver program are premised on assumptions that I submit are not supported by facts. The first assumption seems to be that while the judges and staff of the courts are sacrificing income and the public is deprived of access to the courts, the AOC is blithely handing out raises, and that the money saved by salary waivers is somehow going to be misused by the AOC. There is no basis for either premise. As noted in the Vickrey memo, the step increases and promotions preceded this fiscal year. Also, salary waiver funds cannot be used to support AOC salaries or projects, even if anyone wanted to do so, which they do not, and the Judicial Council would not permit it.

It is unfortunate that a serious dispute has erupted as a result of a misleading news article. Perceptions, of course, are often more important than reality. That is why I suggest you review the council’s governance policies and the Vickrey memo and listen to the debate from the December 15 council meeting. The courts have a right to expect that the judicial branch will hold itself accountable and that information will always be available for scrutiny of branch activities.

A summary of the recent council meeting is being prepared by the internal committee chairs of the council and we will distribute it shortly. We are continuing to work to improve our process of providing information to the courts regarding the issues before the council and the actions it takes. There will likely never be 100 percent agreement among our diverse membership, nor should we ever expect that. What we do hope to promote is debate that is based on the most accurate information available. We will not always succeed to everyone’s satisfaction, but hopefully through a process of discussion we will continue to improve the process.

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6 responses to “Judicial Wars: Judge Huffman’s Response to CJA Letter

  1. justinianscode

    Justice Huffman apparently believes the information the Judicial Council members rely upon for their decisions – their briefing materials as well as Mr. Vickrey’s many memos and meeting presentations – provide the information necessary to understand the supposed wisdom of the AOC’s governance and Judicial Council actions. Many of us have read that same information and have come to the conclusion that they in no way justify those actions and governance. In particular, Mr. Vickrey’s statement as recorded from the 12/15 Judicial Council meeting merely reiterates what has been said before, and does nothing to shed new light in such a way that critics will suddenly understand why the Judicial Council and AOC actions would be for the best.

    Now, of course, if Justice Huffman is relying on information that has not been made public he should share that with us instead of insisting we are misinformed, ignorant or willfully distorting facts. It’s only just and fair; after all, his title does include the word “justice.”

  2. I have seen situations like this over the centuries, and they don’t end well for those in power. Justice Huffman does not realize that time has passed him by and he is the problem (and that is why critics simply annoy him). And why might I ask is Justice Huffman speaking for the council? The Chief is the Chair of the council, not J. Huffman.

    I can only think it’s because the Chief wants nothing to do with all of this but he can’t hide his head in the sand. And the head of the AOC is merely the Council’s secretary! The branch has allowed all of its power to be concentrated in three people who are out of touch and have lost credibility. No group can effectively lead if they choose to be dismissive, AWOL and highly insulated crotchets.

  3. “What we do hope to promote is debate that is based on the most accurate information available.”

    The most accurate information available or merely that information that they are willing to acknowledge and/or divulge?? There seems to be a HUGE difference between the two, and please allow me to present today’s word of the day:

    propaganda: official government communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political effect.

  4. why does he think the article was misleading? What is not to understand? The facts are very straightforward The AOC gave raises or promotions to some of its empoyees during a fiscal crisis. Isn’t that enough?

    I’d sure like to see the satutory authority that supports J Huffmans contentions about the chief’s authority (over everyone and everything) and the council…not a rule of court approved by them.

    And how can say you want to promote debate when you call anyone that disagrees with you shrill and uninformed or that what they are suggesting is tantamount to muntiny? If there was open debate allowed, you would not have blogs like this!

    What was said at this last council meeting, particularly the “suprise” motion or whatever it was, screams for what the counties have: that the Board of Supervisors as a body (or a majority of the body) is not allowed to meet unless they are in a public forum.

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

    “It is impossible calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.” — Thomas Paine

  6. Definitely propaganda, the Justice’s letter reads like a standard AOC Office of Communications news release. These guys never write their own communications.