Judicial Wars: Alliance of California Judges Sees “Need for Oversight of AOC”

Judge Charles Horan of Los Angeles wrote a piece on behalf of the Alliance of California Judges (ACJ) titled “Need for Oversight of AOC Is More Apparent Than Ever.” The piece was published in the Metropolitan-News Enterprise today. In the piece Judge Horan writes that the latest revelations regarding unlicensed contractors and a lack of interest in the Judicial Council to supervise its bureaucratic arm, the Administrative Office of the Courts, is proof that the AOC needs oversight.

From a trial judge’s perspective, local control of court operations and decisions regarding access is why we are elected in contested countywide elections. It is certainly not to decide cases based upon some regional interpretation of statute. To have important decisions about court access made by judges or staff who are not locally elected, or even aware of the problems in any particular county, is contrary to the basic precepts of our constitution and form of government. To dissent from such an approach is not to weaken the branch, or cast the judiciary in a bad light, but I believe to ultimately strengthen it.

Local control is necessary, but with every moment it becomes more clear that we continue to move farther and farther from this approach. Judges need to be educated as to the policy embodied in Government Code Sec. 77001, which policy is often ignored or forgotten by those on the Judicial Council and within the Administrative Office of the Courts. In fact, draft legislation recently emanated from the AOC, without the apparent knowledge of the Council, which would have essentially gutted the section. A copy of this draft accompanies this article.

More alarming, the Council has now publicly stated that which we feared all along:

They have little apparent interest in overseeing the AOC, and believe they have no ability to do so.

A senior member of the Council for 12 or more years pointed out at the Dec. 15 Council meeting that the Council only meets six times a year, has voluntary membership, and cannot and will not increase their oversight. They prefer to set policy and have the AOC do whatever they see fit to implement the policy. Oversight is minimal at best.

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17 responses to “Judicial Wars: Alliance of California Judges Sees “Need for Oversight of AOC”

  1. “Injustice must be expressed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

    “True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.” — Clarence Darrow

    Thank you, Judge Horan. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

  2. Well that confirms it. An unabashed attempt at legislative takeover of the court system from stem-to-stern.

    They figure if they can retroactively change the law with SBx211 and indemnify the possible crimes of the past and get everyone to buy off on it, then it stands to reason that this would be Mr. Curtis Child’s next legislative ace. A complete state takeover of California’s trial courts and usurp all local control.

    The more unchecked miscarriage of justice that is permitted, the more emboldened the AOC becomes. This is wrong on so many levels.

    What’s with the defining of cirriculum of K-12?

  3. Judge Horan raises some fantastic points that really go to the crux of the problem. There is a huge gap between policy development and implementation. CCMS is the best example. As a matter of policy, a statewide system that allows for a real-time exhange of case information between all 58 counties might make sense. However, if implementing the policy means spending in excess of $1.4 billion dollars, dragging out design and development of the product for 8 years, when some courts had a pressing need in 2002 for a new case managment system and adopting an unstainable funding stratgey, then maybe it is not such a great policy decision.

    The JC position that it just develps a policy and completely entrusts policy implementation to the AOC without any oversight defies logic, is contrary to basic principles of corporate governance and antithetical to the concept of accountability. How can the CJ go on about “accountability” if the governing body he chairs refuses to provide any sort of oversight to the administrative body charged with carrying out its policy?

    I am sure there are current or former members of the JC who are reading this. I would be interested to know if you were you ever told that CCMS would cost $1.4 billion? Did a cost of that magnitude ever come up at a JC meeting? If so, did it cause you any concern? Did anyone ever tell you at a JC meeting why it was taking years to develop the system, when the JC policy was adopted in 2002 to address immediate needs? Did anyone ever tell you that the CCMS funding strategy relied on a $250 million contribution from the trial courts and the courts never had anywhere close to this amount set aside in reserves to pay for CCMS? Did anyone ever tell you the funding strategy relied on the legislature approving a $360 million gneral fund allocation at end of the project and there was never any guarantee that it would?

    If you weren’t told this information, would you have liked to known it before approving additional expenditures on the project? If you were told this, why did you approve the expenditures?

    • Great questions, moneywatcher…and I’d love to know the answers! (And feel we deserve these answers!)

      I have a simple, simple question here…(humor me, will ya?)…..is the AOC considered part of the branch?

      I ask because IF the Judicial Council Governance Policies of June 2008 are currently being relied on, those policies clearly state that the JC’s responsibilities include:

      “Establishing standards for performance and accountability of the administrative operations and procedures of the branch.”

      What ARE those accountability and performance standards? Once those standards are established, who has the authority, if anyone, to insure those standards are met?

      Prior to June 2008, what were they relying on with regard to governing policies in this regard?

      Am I in left field here asking these questions?

  4. It may be frightening to people, but I do believe that all of this represents necessary change. From my vantage, what is the AOC explanation as to why JC governance policies were adopted by an internal committee (if that’s what even happened!), and why does that that internal committee have so much power through 2011? I hope a council member moves to immediately rescind the 6/08 policies and the 8/09 rules of court, and ask that the AOC publish an explanation regarding what happened (for example, how and when E&P was “officially” empowered to act on the Council’s behalf? And what have they done on the council’s behalf if they don’t publish minutes?). Or …

    Did E&P or the JC or even an oversight committee approve the 2007 sole source contract with Deloitte, or did SC do that all on her own and break every imaginable public contracting and conflict of ethics law put on the books to protect Californians from misuse of state funds? Erm …

    Why does the Chief still not think there is something wrong at the AOC (four whistleblowers and counting, with people thinking only the F.B.I. could possibly help them? I take AOC-W very seriously, because only from a malignant management team could an independent blog emerge that may end up becoming a model for providing relevant, timely, and in-depth in coverage on court issues – more so than any communication vehicle that is put out by the AOC!

    My favorite new alarm bell (thank you Mermaid) — now CCMS is even MORE vague. A pitch was made by two CA Supreme Court justices traveling to the far away land of federal government, to toss out a fishing line in order to catch funds — for an unfinished, “on life support” product that will now be part of homeland security? Is it going to be redesigned (again) to keep us safe from future terrorist attacks happening in closed courthouses? I want a blue light saber on my Small Claims Proceedings and Potential Suspects Terminal, whenever that arrives. Actually, maybe pull the plug because I have doubts about whether the project will be allowed to proceed, once people really start looking at documents.

    Frightening as all this may be, isn’t not doing anything more frightening? Apathy in these dire times is completely contrary to the whole notion of what the judiciary is intended to stand for. Thank you Judge Horan and everyone who is pushing for more truth and accountability. God bless.

  5. I wish it to be known that the mere fact that a judge has come forward and publicly stated that one of these unlicensed contractors is and has been operating in his own building is a kind of emotional and psychological relief that I have been waiting six months to hear.

    It tells me that not everyone in the judicial branch is trying to sweep this under the rug.

    Thank you Judge Horan.

    You have no idea what that simple act means to me.

  6. Honorable Judge Horan,

    You give me hope that my faith can be restored in the CA judicial system (sorry if that sounds negative in any way, but I’m only being honest). I can only imagine that this has not been comfortable, and I am grateful that you and your associates in the Alliance are willing to stand up for what is proper and just. Thank you in earnest.

  7. Thanks Judge Horan for the insightful commentary. You are so right- our system of constitutional government is based on local control not power concentrated in the hands of a few. The proposed amendment to GC 77001 pretty much says it all. What an incredibly bold and striking attempt to take complete control of the branch and eliminate any and all local control over the courts! I have read and heard the AOC lays this all off on the State Department of Finance. Really- I’m quite sure that executive agency wants to give the CJ and AOC authority over who picks the Presiding Judges and CEOs of the local courts. The legislature needs to please act- certainly when trial court funding was enacted no one in Sacramento intended for an entire branch of government to be controlled by the CJ his appointees to the JC and the AOC. The citizens of California deserve much better.

  8. Hot damn Judge Horan, you rock! I thank you from the bottom of my public servant heart and for the citizens of the state of California. What a guy! A crystal gavel for Judge Horan.

  9. By the way Judge Horan, you are so hot being such a brave guy, I think there are a few out there that want to know if you are single! 🙂 There is something about a guy that is willing to put it all out there. Ok I say in jest but thankyouthankyouandthankyou.

  10. Nathaniel Woodhull

    Chuck Horan is a great judge whom I have known for many years. He and the other members of the Alliance are being systematically marginalized as being some disenfranchised right-wing fanatics. This claims are far from the truth.

    As Judge Horan points out, combing the public records you will find no formal approval for many of the excessively expensive and unnecessary systems (e.g. CCMS) that are being developed by the AOC. No-bid contacts have also lead to excessive costs and raised questions of propriety as to how these contractors received the jobs.

    The Chief and his followers, along with the AOC Administration believe in total devotion and do not tolerate anyone asking questions, nor expressing contrary views. To do so will result in the end of one’s career advancement. The Chief has made clear that he will decide who is appointed to what Judicial Council post or committee and has tried to control who is appointed to the Court of Appeals.

    Many years ago, the was an effort to infiltrate the CJA and ensure that the Board and Presidents would be aligned with the Chief and his policies. It got to bad that Bill Vickery and Ron Overholt were allowed to attend the entirety of all CJA Board meetings, including the Summer Planning Retreats, thanks to Jim Mize and Terry Friedman. It was clear to Board members that any emails sent would be immediately forwarded to the AOC brass.

    It was because of the lack of willingness of the CJA Board to stand up to the Chief and express ideas of the broad spectrum of the judiciary that caused the formation of the Alliance.

    Finally, this year after the Alliance was formed, Mike Vicencia finally stood up to the AOC and invited Mr. Vickery and Mr. Overholt to leave the CJA Board meetings so that open discussions could be had. Good for Mike, but look at the flogging he has already taken for the tepid comments he made as an “ex officio” member of the Judicial Council. Let’s hope that the CJA and Alliance can work together to address the concerns of many judges throughout the State.

    I am hopeful that both the Alliance and CJA will continue to work to expose the undemocratic methods and tactics of the Chief and AOC administration. Good luck in the future!

    • Wow, thanks for sharing, Nathaniel. This is the type of information that needs to be known! It sure seems as if the Chief, the JC and the AOC administration attempts to discredit anyone who disagrees with them. As the say, actions speak louder than words!

  11. “In theory, the Council sets all branch policy, and the AOC carries it out as ordered. In reality, those of us who have watched the process over the years know that often times, AOC staff writes the policy, suggests it to the Council who almost invariably accept it, pass it as their own, and send the AOC out to implement it.”

    Judge Horan hit the nail on the head on how the process works. It’s like a self recommendation referral process that almost, inevitably results in even more power being delegated to the AOC…a vicious cycle spinning faster and faster as time goes by…and it’s definitely grown way out of control!

    If you have any doubt of this, I invite you to read the JC minutes and witness for yourself the far-reaching delegation of authority the JC has given. In one instance, instead of continuing to delete authority to the AOC Director on an annual basis, they (the JC) decided that this process was too cumbersome for them to do once a year, so they bestowed it on an ongoing basis…asking that the AOC follow that up with applicable law to make it so!

    As you might surmise, I’ve been reading quite a few JC minutes, and one particular person has been absent at each and every meeting! I’m starting to wonder if they have *EVER* attended a JC Meeting and, if not, why are they sitting on the council? Shouldn’t there be a minimum attendance requirement of some kind?

    • Correction!

      “instead of continuing to delete authority to the AOC Director on an annual basis…”

      SHOULD READ

      “instead of continuing to DELEGATE authority to the AOC Director on an annual basis…”

  12. When I was told back in the 80’s to spend money that the AOC was giving us, my first reaction was “what do they want in return?”

    We knew soon after. When you look at a budget and the cost to change a light bulb, clean the roof gutters and to tighten a toilet seat what it is now for a small court to $250.000. I nearly came unglued. When I started in the courts the AOC had 20 maybe 30 employees. Now it has over a thousand and charging the tax payers for every dime.

    I wish that other states that proceeded us in the process knew what that have done to the California Court and perhaps their owe. I won’t call it criminal, but in my eyes it is dare close.

    There needs to be a closer look. I will disclose whatever imformation I have if someone wishes to call.

  13. I have no idea where to post this at this point, so here I am!

    About the E&P Committee Minutes. Unless I’m horribly mistaken, it would seem that the various committee minutes that I could find were linked directly in the agendas. However, it’s very inconsistent. In some cases, the links appear to be missing, even though there is a binder tab reference in the agenda (said reference is with regard to where the hard copies exist in the actual meetings) AND in some cases there seems to be only summaries of the various meeting dates imbedded within the actual JC Minutes or reports to the JC.

    Not very consistent at all. I wonder if any of the links were inadvertently left off when some of this material was uploaded because there seems to be some gaps.

    Also, when you DO finally find the E&P Minutes…keep scrolling all the way through the document, even through blank pages because you will sometimes find several committee meeting minutes (or summaries thereof) located in one single document!

    Hope that helps in some small way! (Although I see absolutely NOTHING about the actual governance policy adoption date and I really, really locked for that, in particular!)