If you’re a regular AOC Watcher reader, you’ve probably wondered what inspired me to start a blog about the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). The answer to that is, like many things in life, rather complicated. But the main inspiration for my starting this blog is one man. And that man is Jack Urquhart.
Back in August I wrote a post about how Jack Urquhart, an AOC employee at the time, was so disturbed by the AOC’s spending for a conference for the Judicial Council he leaked the costs of the San Francisco event to the media. An article in the Daily Journal described the event and Mr. Urquhart’s actions for leaking the financial costs.
An 11-year veteran of the Administrative Office of the Courts said he was forced out of his job last month after admitting that he leaked information about a pricey judicial conference to the media.
Jack Urquhart, a senior court services analyst, said he acted out of frustration with significant costs racked up by the Judicial Council’s annual meeting in June. After telling a supervisor what he had done, Urquhart said, he was ushered to the human resources department and told that retirement was his only option.
“I didn’t argue, because it seemed to me the only other option was termination,” he said. Citing personnel policies, AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa said he could not discuss Urquhart’s employment status or respond to his allegations.
Held at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco, the Judicial Council’s three-day conference featured high-priced facilitators, a catered dinner at the California Academy of Sciences and guest rooms — including a presidential suite — for out-of-town attendees. The total price tag for the event was more than $86,000.
“It occurred to me that we could find a cheaper way to stage this meeting,” Urquhart said. The AOC could have held the conference at its San Francisco headquarters, he said, instead of spending $42,000 for meeting halls, on-site meals and hotel rooms at the Hilton.
For his actions Mr. Urquhart was quickly shown the door and forced into an early retirement. That’s when it became clear to me that Mr. Urquart had fallen victim to an agency that appeared to be more interested in its self-preservation and maintenance of the status quo. A status quo where the AOC stood unchallenged and unquestioned. And any other AOC employee who dared to get in the way of the AOC would be treated the same as Mr. Urquart because the AOC was confident in the knowledge that its own employees were not protected by whistleblower laws.
Yes, the AOC’s overly confident, and some would argue smug, position has had the very opposite effect. For now current employees are filing suits against the agency for the way it has treated them. Another whistleblower dealt the agency a major blow in revealing it was assigning work for courthouse maintenance to unlicensed contractors. A legislative committee held a hearing in Sacramento in October over the AOC. Two legislators have now come forward promising to introduce legislation to ensure AOC employees are covered by whistleblower laws. Judges are now stepping up and speaking out against some of the AOC’s policies and positions. The media is taking a closer look at the agency as well giving it a scrutiny that it has never faced before.
And the man that I believe started it all, a man who became a catalyst for the work to bring much wished for reform for the AOC, and served as an inspiration for my starting this blog, is Jack Urquhart. A man who saw a wrong and sought to bring the public’s attention to it. A man whose actions, if I may borrow a phrase from the AOC itself, have served all Californians and may eventually benefit the courts.