Los Angeles Lays Off Hundreds of Court Employees

For almost a year now Judge McCoy of Los Angeles Superior Court has been stating that if things didn’t improve financially for his court he would have no choice but to lay off hundreds of court staff and close courts.  He’s also been one of the more vocal proponents of having court construction funds redirected back to county courts to help them with their budget deficits and to prevent mass layoffs.

Now we find out today from the Daily Journal that Judge McCoy has done what he has said he’d have no choice but to do if things didn’t improve.

The Los Angeles Superior Court plans to issue pink slips to 329 employees today, amid a dispute with the state agency that oversees the courts, which maintains the layoffs are “unnecessary.”

The bulk of the layoffs will affect clerical assistants and court services assistants, according to a court spokesman. Among the possible cuts is the call center at Metropolitan Courthouse, which processes traffic tickets and handles up to 2,000 calls a day. Notified employees will be placed on administrative leave and paid until the end of March, but will not be reporting to their posts after today.

Court officials are also expected to announce the closure of more than 12 courtrooms throughout the county. They declined to provide further detail of which ones are facing closure until the announcement is made.

The cuts loom as the top official at the Administrative Office of the Courts, which has authority over the state’s trial courts, publicly questioned whether Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy’s decision to lay off employees was necessary.

The AOC and Justice George have, according to the article, taken Judge McCoy’s threats of layoffs and closing courts as a “Chicken Little approach.”  Well, if they thought this was Judge McCoy playing a game of chicken, he’s definitely called their bluff.

You can read more coverage on the layoffs by clicking the links below.

L.A. Superior court cuts 329 employees – SF Examiner

First wave of layoffs claims 50 employees from courthouses – dailybreeze.com

Local courts lay off more than 300 workers – Press Telegram

Los Angeles Superior Court announces layoffs and courtroom closures – 89.3 KPCC

L.A. Trial Courts Undergoing Mass Layoff – Courthouse News Service

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65 responses to “Los Angeles Lays Off Hundreds of Court Employees

  1. Here is another short passage from the same Daily Journal article:

    “I know he has made a decision to lay off 300 individuals,” AOC Administrative Director William Vickrey said during a radio segment that aired Wednesday on KCRW. “We think from a financial perspective that is not required at this time. They may have other reasons for doing that.”

    This is a recurring comment from Judicial Branch leadership, that is, that top AOC staff would do a better job with the Los Angeles Superior Court’s finances than the Presiding Judge and his leadership team of very capable judges and highly experienced staff. The first time I heard it directly from AOC leadership, about 2 months ago, it was much more overt: if they had LA’s reserves they would not need to lay off anyone in the LA Superior Court.

    Tim Fall
    Judge, Yolo Superior Court

    • judicial observer

      Mr. Vickrey accuses Judge McCoy of lying? Amazing, simply amazing.

      The staff Director of the AOC now shows to all he has little respect for a person who is the judicially elected leader of the largest court in our state, and one who, in everything I have read, has shown the up-most deference to him and the Chief Justice.

      I defy anyone to find an attorney, legislator, judge or person who does not think Judge McCoy to be an honorable and dedicated judge and judicial leader. Yet the reward Judge McCoy gets from those in San Francisco for being a respectful but forceful advocate for examining budget priorities set by the AOC and the Judicial Council is to be called names (“Chicken Little”) and accused of the most base deception and callous decision affecting the lives of his court’s employees.

      That Mr. Vickrey is so brazen to make such accusation in a public manner speaks volumes about his own ego, his own view of his self importance and the protection he must feel from his association with the the Chief Justice and all his friends on the Judicial Council. They are his bosses, after all, and his statements signal they agree that Judge McCoy is misleading everyone and needlessly fabricating his court’s crisis.

      To put this in context, Mr. Vickrey in essence is stating that Judge McCoy, along with the many supervising judges of his court and scores of very competent and extremely experienced court managers have all conspired to upend the lives of hundreds of people, create what must be an almost unmanageable morale problem among remaining employees and judges, so he can accomplish what? Apparently to greedily grab money his court really doesn’t need from a fund controlled by the AOC and embarrass Mr. Vickrey. And this massive conspiracy is kept a secret from all but the all-knowing fiscally responsible leadership of the AOC? Wow!

      And this from a person who has not been able to bring a computer system on line in a decade of work and estimates the expenditure of $2 billion of taxpayer’s money to do so. This from a person who is so fiscally responsible he gives his employees furloughs and hiring freezes, and then rewards his more “special” people merit increases and recruits “independent contractors.” This from a person who is staff to a Council which at their last meeting continued court closures with little concern to the effect upon the public and refused to state that keeping our trial courts open is the number one priority of the Judicial Branch.

      And if Judge McCoy didn’t need to do this, then what are we to believe about Alameda, San Bernardino, Glenn and all the other counties who have laid off employees? I wonder what we will be told as other counties continue to lay off employees in the months ahead? I suspect because they have not asked for a review of budget priorities and their PJs have signed a pledge to keep construction money to help the building trades and not their own employees, we will be told that unlike the dishonest Judge McCoy they must really have needed to engage in such downsizing.

      I submit that to find that a person could even imagine such a politically devious scenario speaks much about the true nature of the accuser. I also submit that if the Judicial Council does not repudiate these comments, such will speak to the nature of their character as well.

      • You’re right, Judicial Observer. While decrying the “shrill” tone of the debate the Chief calls one of the most well-respected Judges in the state “Chicken Little” and, thus emboldened, the director of AOC prattles that that same judges’s motives in laying off 329 good people are suspect.

        Judge McCoy has agreed to defer much-needed construction in his own county, because he knows that, first and foremost, the courts should remain open. The reward for trying his level best to protect the delivery of services to his constituents? Well, you saw it.

        Indeed, the Council should immediately and decisively repudiate the statements of the director and others. They won’t, though, because chicken little doesn’t really reside in LA, but a bit further north.

      • Robert Dukes

        My colleague Judge Horan is correct.

        The Judicial Council should forcefully and immediately repudiate the outrageous statement of Mr. Vickrey which inferred that Judge McCoy was either falsifying the reasons for having to destroy the careers and livelihoods of hundreds of fine and hardworking employees, or is incompetent in his leadership and management of the most complex trial court in the United States. I know that up to 100 judges and staff members of our court have worked on this budget problem for over a year seeking an alternative solution to the failure of insufficient funding, and they all are outraged about the accusation being spread by the AOC that they have implemented this catastrophic measure for no justifiable reason other than some ridiculous political act.

        Such comments by the Director of the staff arm of the Judicial Council reflect poorly upon his role as a bureaucrat in charge of an agency of the judicial branch ostensibly meant to be supportive of all the courts and the Council itself. His lack of respect of Judge McCoy and the office he holds as both an elected judge and as a Presiding Judge representing in excess of 435 judges of this state should be addressed by the council to which he reports.

      • My colleagues Judge Horan and Judge Dukes will probably recall that at the CJA annual meeting last September it was the Chief Justice who announced that one hoped-for consequence of court closures would be to show the other branches of government how important the Judicial Branch is.

        I have had numerous conversations with Judge McCoy over the past year regarding budget and branch administration issues. I have never heard him even hint at such a motive behind any of his actions, nor have I any reason to suspect such a motive.

        Tim Fall
        Judge, Yolo Superior Court

  2. The damage being done to the Los Angeles Courts, and by extension, to the people of Los Angeles County is scandalous. The AOC is withholding more than sufficient funds to avert mass layoffs and refuse to tap available funds to keep the courts fully functioning. They have made the case that court construction and remodeling is a higher priority than access to justice. It is preposterous to believe that the LA Court administration is intentionally contracting and crippling the entire court system unnecessarily. True, the current and threatened layoffs would not be necessary if the AOC supported diverting funds to trial court operations but the AOC has decided to let the LA Courts fail, not Tim McCoy. Reducing the size of a court system handling 9 million filings a year, as if the population of Los Angeles had suddenly declined 5 million people, will have irremediable consequences. It could take a decade to replace the specialized court professionals with unique skills who will be lost in the layoffs. The impact of a dysfunctional court system on the people of Los Angeles will be serious if steps aren’t taken soon to shift the priorities. How bad are they going to let things get before they finally relent?

  3. This is now a serious situation. I hope that those who can change the course of this will swallow their pride, admit they may have made mistakes in respect to spending on the computer project, and accept help. I part ways with those who believe this is solely the result of malfeasance in the judicial branch. I still believe the excessive CCMS spending, with no usable statewide system so far and nothing in sight, has come about because those at the top were given bad advice about the technology.

    The potential disaster in our court system doesn’t have to happen and it’s not too late to save the situation, although about $500 Million is certainly gone. Better to write off the $500 Million and get this done right for a small additional amount of money than to throw good money after bad. The $8 Million or so currently being spent each month on CCMS would be better spent holding on to those court employees. And the damage to the Los Angeles court system could be with us for many years if not reversed right away. It’s time to stop chasing rainbows and just admit that CCMS is never going to get to the pot of gold and there is no leprechaun at the end of the rainbow.

  4. The destruction of service has begun for L.A. residents

    The first wave of 329 are now out the door. In Aug another 500 will go. 180 courtrooms and 9 courthouses will be deleted as L.A. shrinks to prepare to release another 500 in early 2011. With attrition included the L.A. Sup Court will shed 1,800 employees out of a current work force of 5,300.

    L.A. is on a path to only provide only what is mandated and the public will wait in a very long line for that.

    As someone who has gone over L.A.’s budget and had it analyzed I can tell you. There is no money and the court is underfunded.

    Judge McCoy (Who I am not a fan of.) is telling the truth and the sky is in fact falling.

    The kicker? If every AOC building project already green lighted continues. There is still enough money left over in the AOC’s pocket to keep L.A. and every other court in the state running with full funding.

    This is the devastation that an egotistical need to leave a legacy costs.

  5. Don’t forget that LA is not the first to be forced into laying-off employees, I believe at a minimum, Alameda, Contra Costra and San Bernardino have preceded LA in layoffs, LA is simply the largest. Sadly more counties will soon follow. The failure in leadership from the AOC is beyond tragic at this point.

  6. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    Questions:

    1. Do these layoffs and courtroom closures extend to rank and file workers or do judges whose courtrooms are closed also get laid off?

    2. How does one do judge stuff without a courtroom? Do they share court staff of another judge?

    I’m trying to understand how judges are or will be affected by courtroom closures and staff reductions. I can understand how the public is affected with lines getting longer but I am at a loss how the AOC can build two new courthouses (long beach/glendale) and numerous new courtrooms that L.A. won’t be able to afford to staff.

    • Robert Dukes

      Judges, as elected officials, do not get laid off.

      As their courtrooms are shut down, judges will be assigned to either double up with a judge in a staffed courtroom (e.g. you do your trials and calendar in the morning and I’ll do mine in the afternoon) or to conduct settlement conferences or research in chambers without the use of staff. Some may even elect to do some minor types of cases without staff, administering oaths and completing the paperwork themselves.

      No matter how the work is redistributed, the end result will be the ever lengthening of the time to trial and disposition. Along with that is the inevitable losing of files and papers, inability to assist the public and answer questions, shortened hours and many continuances increasing expenses and inconvenience to the litigants and ultimately the outright denial of services.

      At some point, if the amount of courts and courthouses closed approaches the extremes anticipated in some counties, the courts will need to triage cases and decide what matters will simply not be heard. Small claims? Traffic tickets? Evictions? Infractions? Low grade misdemeanors? Non-custody issues and Divorces?

      A by-product already occurring is the increase in the use of private judges by those who can afford it. By going outside the public system, litigants get an expeditious resolution of their case saving them expenses generated by continuances needed because of lack of courtrooms or staff resources. We will truly have a two tier justice system — the public courts for the poor and middle class and a private system for the rich.

      As a good judge can make 3 or 4 times as much in the private arena, and the stress is a fraction of that now being forced upon many of us by the fiscal restraints and demands placed on our time, we will see that as the demand for private ADR rises many of the best and brightest judges on the bench will leave public service. And it will be difficult to find equally talented lawyers willing to give up their practice, generally for less than they currently make and jump into the morass now being created.

  7. O-WK, question No. 1 is something I discussed with a colleague last week. It is our understanding that closing courtrooms does not mean laying off judges. No way. The cost-savings comes from laying off the staff in closed courtrooms, despite the fact that the judges will presumably be languishing in chambers somewhere with nothing to hear and nowhere to hear it.

    Absurd, I know, but cheaper in the long run. And – to put it nicely — absurdity does seem to rule the day under the current “leadership.” And if this is incorrect, I hope someone will jump in with accurate information.

    Maybe they could send those displaced judges to the newly constructed courthouses so they can keep an eye on the place until these desperately needed facilities can one day be staffed and actually opened to the public.

  8. courtwatcher

    Judge Dukes understands the details of judical administration as well as anyone. However, to add to what he said; judges are elected officials not subject to layoffs, but commissioners and referees are trial court employees who would be laid off.

    While LA will recognize cost savings by laying off these subordinate judicial officers (“SJO”), the layoffs will result in an inefficent use of judicial resources. Instead of presiding over complex civil, family law and probate matters, Superior Court judges will be assigned to departments formerly staffed by SJO’s to hear traffic/infraction arraignments and trials, small claims, juvenile traffic matters.

    The quality of justice will suffer as judges, who previously heard complex cases are reassigned to juvenile dependency departments to hear cases typically heard by experienced referees. Not that the judges can’t learn the dependency system, but it is an area where the learning curve is steep and when the rights of parents and children are involved, every case is important. The typical juvenile referee practiced dependency law and is well-versed in not only the substantive law, but child development issues, domestic violence issue unique to dependency situations and the availability of services available to children and parents. Most judges do not have that background.

  9. Just to correct the record here, Glenn Court has not laid off any employees. The only other smaller court that I know of that has is Nevada.

    • judicial observer

      Courtflea, thank you.

      I should have added Contra Costa, however. Isn’t that the county who’s P.J. co-authored an op.ed. with a construction trades representative defending hording court construction funds to help the building trades, and then laid off the court’s employees? Nice to know how that court’s P.J. values its own staff.

      Oh, and San Mateo. I think they had layoffs as early as last October. Also Marin. And Placer. Hard to keep everyone straight in this soap opera we call the Judicial Branch.

      But Judge McCoy is “Chicken Little” when he suggests the trial courts are facing a crisis and need help now? I guess Judge McCoy didn’t want the other courts to feel lonely. After all, the financial geniuses at the Judicial Council have said there was no reason to do this.

      • According to the National Law Journal Online, “Last year, the Alameda County Superior Court laid off 73 workers; San Mateo County Superior Court laid off 28; and Placer County Superior Court laid off 40. Last month, the Marin County Superior Court laid off six employees.”

        Yes judicial observer, it was the infamous Presiding Judge Mary Ann O’Malley of Contra Costa County Superior Court who laid off 20 % of her workforce (See, http://www.cc-courts.org/_data/n_0003/resources/live/Press_Release_-_Budget_Update_and_Reductions_2-10-10-1.pdf ) and then had unmitigated Gall to spearhead a drive opposing the use of SB 1407 funds to save her employees and other Court employees throughout the State.

        Courtflea mention Nevada County as having had to lay off some employees and judicial observer mentioned San Bernardino County, which I also believe has had layoffs.

        If there are any other courts I did not mention, please add them. Thanks.

  10. PattyJaneSmith

    Judicial Observer – your earlier post was so right on the money! Who are we to believe the AOC or the LA Superior Court? My guess is that most will believe the LA Superior Court. All of this bluster coming from the AOC is yet another diversionary tactic to take attention away from their problems. Go after LA and put their causes on the defensive in the hopes that the critics will forget about the AOC’s problems since they’ll be so focused on LA. Hmmm…..

  11. versal-versal

    Judge McCoy is a man of great integrity and commitment . Incredibly it would appear that the head of the administrative arm of the court, Mr Vickrey of the AOC is calling Judge McCoy the leader of the largest court system in California a liar. All of this is further evidence of just how dysfunctional the branch has become. We need change and that change is democratization of the Judicial Council ,

  12. Wendy Darling

    Given how badly and offensively the Chief Justice and Vickrey treat Judge McCoy and make baseless accusation against him as well as the other judges who have tried to bring the truth forward, you can begin to get a sense of just how atrociously and viciously the Chief Justice and Vickrey treat their own employees who have no ability to defend themselves without the very real risk of getting fired, and the venomous environment the AOC employees work in.

  13. Judicial Observer

    It is so shameful and distressing that this attitude and inappropriate behavior even exists in the one branch of government which should be above reproach in its conduct. Name calling and belittling of persons with differing views is not very judicious.

    I have worked with hundreds of judges and staff members throughout the trial courts in this state and believe that few exhibit any of this behavior. We have heard it exists among some on the Judicial Council and at the AOC, but chalked it up to sour grapes from some trial courts. I think many are shocked to finally see over these past months it now coming out in public .

  14. AOC on the March.

    Today they showed up in LA to audit the LA Court.

    I guess the king needs to find 35 cents so he can claim LA didn’t need to lay anyone off.

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      Totally believable that they would show up the day after layoffs are announced so that Mr. Bill could prove his “other motives” theory.

      And when are all of the AOC’s operations going to be audited?

    • This is LA’s internal audit unit and has nothing to do with the AOC.

      Based on reports from the last council meeting, the state Department of Finance is likely to be begin auditing the AOC later this year.

  15. No one is asking: why all of a sudden is Bill V speaking on the record? He was so laying low before and letting Ron O. take the hits. Interesting.

  16. Bill Vickrey’s conduct is despicable. The Chief Justice condones, encourages and rewards this bad behaviour. Were it anybody else or any other organization, there would be consequences for this ‘trash’ talking. but in the judicial branch, all is fair as long as the Chief OK’s it. It is time the Chief began taking his political lumps if this is how he wants to play.

    Let’s say what this is: Bill Vickrey and the Chief have brought the judicial branch into insolvency while spending money on all pet projects that they deem warranted. Now when hundreds of employees are fired, the courts are closed and the Legislature is actually waking up to the mess which is the AOC, those two scout around for someone to blame. They need to look no further then the mirror. This is a tired old story: Blame LA! Maybe it is time to blame those responsible for a change: Bill and Ron

  17. Thank you pacwest 50 and others for your imput about the recent comments by Mr. Vickrey. You have given La Parodia a chance to respond.

    Let us all grab our DSMs.

    La Parodia believes that the recent dust up over Mr. Vickrey’s remarks as to why Judge McCoy may have to fire staff and close courtrooms has serious implications. La Parodia starts off with the belief that the Chief Justice and Mr. Vickrey speak “with one voice” and, therefore, Mr. Vickrey’s statement that “there may be other reasons for doing that “(closing courtrooms and firing staff) are the words of the Chief Justice. So let us look at the Chief Justice.

    He is 70 years old ( and wants the taxpayer to give him a job for the next 12 years).

    He may have Dissociative Amnesia. He recently thought he was in court when he was at a meeting of the Judicial Council. At this meeting he was introduced to a judge and then called this judge “mister”.

    He appears to have Grandiose Delusions. He says that before he took charge the courts in California were no more than 58 fiefdoms. He alone cured this problem and made California into a unified court system. He has said that any attempt to make the Judicial Council democratic was a “declaration of war”. A “declaration of war” over who will be a member of the Judicial Council sounds delusional to anyone who has been in a real war.( The Chief Justice avoided service in the Armed Forces)

    Does he have a Paranoid Personality Disorder?
    He seems to have an exaggerated distrust of anyone who disagrees with him. He calls them names. He constantly suspects the motivations of those around him. Hence he calls Judge McCoy “Chicken Little” and through Mr. Vickrey calls Judge McCoy and all of his advisors liars.

    Does the Chief Justice have a Delusional Disorder? Has he not over-invested himself in an idea (CCMS and the refusal to use 1407 funds for court operations) that overwhelms other ideas (keeping the courts open)? Does he not meet with hostility any attempt by others to question his over-invested ideas? Does not he have a quality of secretiveness (when will CCMS be finished and how much will it cost?) Does he not have a demeanor that is humorless and oversensitive about his over-invested beliefs?

    Judge McCoy, the Judges of LA, and the Judges throughout the state are too well behaved to write what La Parodia has written. La Parodia has written this to let the Chief Justice know that these personal attacks on a respected judge will not be tolerated and when he, or his minions, make such remarks they will, in the future, be answered in kind. LaParodia hopes the Chief Justice understands what has been written here is a tepid response to his attack on Judge McCoy and the judges in Los Angeles. Mr. Chief Justice: stop attacking LA. Put your own house in order.

    La Parodia hopes that the Chief Justice, the Legislature, the Press, and the Public read this and respond by telling the Chief Justice to stop these personal attacks.

    We all age differently do we not?

  18. Here is what is really sad. All these issues can be dealt with by employing some moderation and common sense. A democratically elected Judicial Council might conclude that saving court employee’s jobs takes priority over continuing to pour billions into a failed computer system. They might also agree with Judge McCoy that diversion of court house construction funds to keep courts in LA open was a reasonable alternative for them. This is what democracy within the branch might bring- a reasoned and thoughtful discussion of alternatives so that we never lose sight of our goal which is to give the public we serve access to their courts. All who read and participate in this blog and who care about our courts need to write or call their state representatives and urge them to support pending legislation to democratize the Judicial Council. This is the solution to something never intended- that a Chief Justice would come to power and control through his appointees an entire branch of government and demean any one who dissents as ” shrill””uninformed” and on the “fringe”.

    • Lando, I think that the primary concern of AOC, like any massive bureaucracy, is keeping themselves and their pet projects intact. Contra Costa reportedly has lost 20% of their employees, and this with a P.J. that is not at all a thorn in the side of the AOC. So far, I haven’t seen any layoffs at AOC, have you? I believe they closed a regional office, but the employees are still on the payroll, correct?

      When AOC loses 20% of their staff I will believe they are remotely serious about the difficulties facing trial courts.

      The budget is a disaster, and this has been confirmed by the latest LAO report released on Thursday. The iceberg has been struck, and the AOC and council refuse to do the simplest thing on earth–declare that keeping the courts open is THE number one priority of a court system. When a councilmember from Los Angeles made this very motion at the January Council meeting, the council wouldn’t even VOTE on it until the motion had been amended by councilmembers Miriam Krinsky and Justice Huffman into a tepid “keeping courts open is a priority”. The Chief Justice immediately concurred in this change, that “racism and sexism are problems in the courts, so we can’t say that keeping the courts open is THE number one priority…” Oh, it was remarkable. When the supposed leaders of a court system cannot bring themselves to even VOTE on whether keeping the court system OPEN should be the foremost priority in the competition for funds, and have to resort to arguments like those put forth at that meeting, we should not expect viable solutions from San Francisco. Change will never emanate from there, but from the ballot box when voters decide to democratize council selection. Judges simply need to lead the way and wrest control of their court system from the bureaucrats and the near-permanent council members who really run the show. Last time I looked, Justice Huffman had served for 13 years in a position that is typically held for two years. And no one can explain why.

  19. On March 19th a blogger called La Parodia used the DSM to explain the personality of the Chief Justice. This seemed unfair.

    What was not unfair was the criticism directed by La Parodia toward the Chief Justice as he relates to Judge McCoy. The Chief Justice believes, without any basis in fact, that Judge McCoy would lay off hundreds of court workers for a political reason and not for an economic reason.

    Omerta believes the Chief Justice honestly believes Judge McCoy would act this way. Omerta believes the Chief Justice has this belief because the Chief Justice would act this way if he were in Judge McCoy’s position. The Chief Justice is a political and not an economic animal.

    Let us look about what we know about the Chief Justice. He has never met a payroll. He has never run a business. He has never done any of the following: driven a cab, waited on a table, sold items door to door, been a paramedic, been a policeman or a fireman, been in the Scouts, worked in a grocery store, painted a house, worked in a marginal family business, worked on an assembly line, cleaned a toilet, graded a school paper and told the student that he/she had failed, been in the military, and on and on.

    The Chief Justice has never done anything in his life but be a member of the chattering class. He has no appreciation whatsoever about the terrible economic distress that hundreds of loyal and hardworking employees of the LA Court are enduring this very evening because they have been laid off. He has no idea of how this lay off action has caused distress to Judge McCoy and the other judges and administrators of that court.

    The Chief Justice has never been in a tight economic situation ( correction: he had to borrow $75,000.00 from Mr. Shapiro in 1998)
    When he was on the Los Angeles Superior Court he was heard to remark to staff that he sometimes did not cash his paychecks in the month they were issued as he did not need the money. He has no appreciation of what it means to live pay check to pay check as do most of the laid off employees of the LA Superior Court.

    He has used his political connections to get the support of Governors Wilson and Deukmejian. Omerta believes neither of these men will support him for retention.

    Judge Horan asked in a previous post why Justice Huffman has had 13 years on the Judicial Council. Omerta thinks there is an explaination and that is that both the Chief Justice and Justice Huffman have similar viewpoints. It is also Omerta’s belief that the plan was that the Chief Justice would go to the U.S. Supreme Court and then Justice Huffman would go to the California Supreme Court. They had similar political goals so it made sense for them to be tied hip to hip year after year.

    Omerta hopes that the Los Angeles Superior Court Judges, as a group and as individuals, send a strong protest to the Chief Justice for his unfortunate behavior toward Judge McCoy.

    Diversity: This Chief Justice has this as his mantra. What is “diverse” about a man who has never grown anything, made anything, or fixed anything? I hope the next Governor gives us a Chief Justice who has had some hard knocks in life.

    • JusticeCalifornia

      By the way, Omerta, you asked about the Shapiro loan.

      According to a “Late Contribution Received Report” filed October 30, 1998, Ralph J. Shapiro, President of Avondale Investment Company, loaned Ronald M. George $75,000 on October 29, 1998–just a few days before the retention election.

      According to page 2 of George’ post-election 490 campaign statement signed by George on January 12, 1999, and dated stamped February 1, 1999, during his campaign he received total loans of $75,000. And, according to line 20 on page 2, George included that $75,000 as a remaining “outstanding debt”.

      That is all I know about Shapiro and George.

      • Why does not some newsperson write two letters?

        The first one to Mr. Vickrey asking what has happened to the money the Shapiro Family Charitable Foundation gave to the AOC from 2000 to 2008? The amount is about $75,000.00.

        The second letter could go to the Chief Justice and would ask him if he ever paid Mr. Shapiro back? When? If this was an interest free loan has the Chief Justice declared this amount as a gift on any of his financial statements filed with the FPPC?

        This information from JusticeCalifornia should be followed up by some newsperson.

  20. Thanks Judge Horan. You have a great ability to explain how all of this went wrong and how we need to fix it. You said it all with Your insight ” Change will never emanate from there, but from the ballot box when voters decide to democratize council selection” . I am inviting everyone here to comment on how we can best achieve the goal of democratizing the Judicial Council by way of legislation or an election. Thanks!

  21. JusticeCalifornia

    Omerta, great idea.

    And while the reporter is at it, he or she should comment on the fact that while the Caperton case has caused such an uproar, California is the largest judiciary in the western world. And our own CA Supreme Court (headed by Ron George), and Ron Georges’s Commission on Impartial Courts (comprised of many judges–all appointed by Ron George), and Judicial Council (comprised of many judges–all appointed by Ron George) are ALL violating and recommending violations of CA state law and the CA Code of Judicial Ethics regarding this campaign contribution mess.

    I am actually amazed that the press and so many others have stayed so quiet about Ron George’s and Ming Chin’s coup d’etat. Ron and Ming, both up for retention election this year, used public money to fund a report allowing them to receive $25,899 from a campaign donor today, and hear that donor’s case tomorrow, and receive unlimited contributions from a donor today, and hear that donor’s case in just about two years.

    Woo hoo, and so much for ethics in, and the impartiality of, the CA justice system.

    Vote Ron and Ming out.

    • Ms. Kaufmann,

      In case you haven’t figured it out by now, no others on this blog seem to share your view of the state of the law. You’re at risk of turning into another one-note poster, a la Mr. Power.

      I have finally had the chance to carefully read the Commission on Impartial Courts’ report, as well as do my own research. Under current law, there is NO limit on the contributions a judge or justice may accept before recusing — none. The only limit is the one embedded in the Code of Civil Procedure and the Canons of Judicial Ethics, which leave it to a judge or justice to decide if the circumstances require recusal. Thus, there is nothing at all in California currently to prevent Caperton II — NOTHING.

      The recommendation of the Commission would change that, establishing a bright line of $1500 for trial court judges and Court of Appeal justices, and $25,900 for the Supreme Court.

      Please explain exactly how that is a step backwards? And I would love to hear from Judges Horan, Maino, and the other judicial officers who post here whether they agree with your interpretation of the law or not. Because while you’re slinging mud at Chief Justice George and Justice Chin, you are also impliedly slinging mud at all judicial officers; under your (flawed) logic, one could say that any judge who did not object to the Commission’s recommendation (and the comments are on line — as far as I can tell, there were virtually no objections other than your own) voted in favor of being able to accept $1500 without recusal.

      Please explain. I’m just not seeing your legal argument at all.

      • WiseEmployee

        Judge-Dredd, who is Ms. Kauffman? I didn’t see a posting by someone with that name. Maybe I missed it or are you calling someone out?

      • Wandering Jewess

        Who are you for that matter, Judge_Dredd? We know that you are not a judge, because you have already bloviated here that you are a trial attorney who has tried cases all over California. You may as well come out of the closet if you are a member of the State Bar, and the best that the AOC can do (or have you volunteered to be their mascot?). Before you call anyone out by their real name here, particularly a judge, you may as well show that you have the guts to give everyone your real name. You have once again managed to offend judicial officers and attorneys, which is not a good strategy for you or the AOC.

  22. justacourtworker

    It is so easy to see that the AOC is just attempting to divert attention from themselves and lay the blame at the feet of the LASC. Classic kindergarten playground game. The sad part is: the public is will ultimately suffer. The employees will suffer. The local ecomony will further suffer. Judges will not languish in their chambers with nothing to do — work is going to be directed and redirected until the courts are doing only what is legally-mandated because the work will be billowing out of the open courthouses and courtrooms while the newly-constructed courthouses will be languishing with nothing to do and no one there to do it. What a waste.

  23. Wandering Jewess

    And do you speak for these Council members, Judge_Dredd?

    State Bar Members of the Judicial Council

    Mr. Anthony P. Capozzi
    Law Offices of Anthony Capozzi

    Ms. Miriam Aroni Krinsky
    Attorney at Law

    Mr. Joel S. Miliband
    Attorney at Law
    Rus, Miliband & Smith

    Mr. James N. Penrod
    Attorney at Law
    Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

    Which of these Judicial Council members do you speak for Judge_Dredd?

  24. Wandering Jewess

    Do you speak for any of these attorneys, Judge_Dredd?

    Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
    Attorney General of California
    Zackery P. Morazzini
    Supervising Deputy Attorney General
    Peter A. Krause
    Deputy Attorney General
    State Bar No. 185098
    1300 I Street, Suite 125
    P.O. Box 944255
    Sacramento, CA 94244-2550
    Telephone (916) 324-5328
    Fax (916) 324-8835
    Email: Peter.Krause@doj.ca.gov

    Attorneys for Plaintiff
    Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts
    San Francisco C0unty Superior Court

  25. JusticeCalifornia

    I think your question was answered before–on a different thread.

    But anyway, Judge Dredd, you’ve apparently now read the Commission on Impartial Courts (CIC) report. You know the CIC was appointed by Ron George and chaired by Ming Chin. You have done your research, and now know the facts and the law about judicial campaign contributions. So let’s talk.

    First, could you tell us where, in the CIC report, it says Ron and Ming can take a whopping $25,900 from a contributor before having to recuse themselves from hearing that contributor’s case? The $1,500 number for trial and appellate judges is there, but where is that $25,900 number for Supreme Court justices? The answer is, the report DOESN’T ever give you the number. In fact, the $25,900 number wasn’t even made clear to the Judicial Council, until minutes before the report was voted on. Right? And, isn’t it true, as was previously pointed out to me on this blog, that Ron and Ming can take unlimited contributions from anyone today, and hear his or her case in two or so years? In your litigation experience, how long does it take before a case hits the CA Supreme court?

    Second, I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but this is a simple case of A+B=C.

    “A” is the fact that most people believe campaign contributions affect the outcome of cases. Is this hearsay? A rumor? No, it’s a fact. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said as follows, in her concurring opinion in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002):

    “[R]elying on campaign donations may leave judges feeling indebted to certain parties or interest groups. See Thomas, National L. J., Mar. 16, 1998, p. A8, col. 1 (reporting that a study by the public interest group Texans for Public Justice found that 40 percent of the $9,200,000 in contributions of $100 or more raised by seven of Texas’ nine Supreme Court justices for their 1994 and 1996 elections “came from parties and lawyers with cases before the court or contributors closely linked to these parties”). Even if judges were able to refrain from favoring donors, the mere possibility that judges’ decisions may be motivated by the desire to repay campaign contributors is likely to undermine the public’s confidence in the judiciary. See Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Inc., and American Viewpoint, National Public Opinion Survey Frequency Questionnaire 4 (2001), (available at http://www.
    justiceatstake.org/files/JASNationalSurveyResults.pdf) (describing survey results indicating that 76 percent of registered voters believe that campaign contributions influence judicial decisions); id., at 7 (describing survey results indicating that two-thirds of registered voters believe individuals and groups who give money to judicial candidates often receive favorable treatment); Barnhizer, “On the Make”: Campaign Funding and the Corrupting of the American Judiciary, 50 Cath. U. L. Rev. 361, 379 (2001) (relating anecdotes of lawyers who felt that their contributions to judicial campaigns affected their chance of success in court).”

    “B” is the fact that CCP 170.1(a)(6)(A)(iii), and the Code of Judicial Ethics both require disqualification of a judge, if a person aware of the facts would reasonably doubt the judge’s ability to be impartial. (And by the way, under CCP 170.1, disqualification requests are supposed to be decided by someone other than the judge who is being challenged.)

    “C” is the logical conclusion–judges are not allowed under current CA law to hear cases involving people who give them money because a person aware of the facts would reasonably doubt that judge’s ability to be impartial.

    You are a lawyer, right Judge Dredd? Give me contrary legal authority and argument on this issue. I have been waiting for someone–ANYONE to do it. Tell me why the above A+B=C equation is wrong, under current CA law. Where is the flawed logic?

    As far as I can tell, Ron and Ming (who have repeatedly been made acutely aware of the above equation over the last several years) spent taxpayer money to obtain a CIC report approved by the Judicial Council, so they can use the CIC recommendations and the JC approval as “official” justification to take big bucks from people who appear before them during their retention elections this year– in violation of state law and/or the Code of Judicial Ethics. Pure and simple.

    • JusticeCalifornia

      And one more thing. Ron and Ming had the opportunity to address the A+B=C issue themselves.

      In 2007, right after the Justice at Stake statistics (that 75% of the public and over 25% of judges believe campaign contributions affect the outcome of cases) were presented at the November 2006 Judicial Summit, the CA Supreme Court was asked to review a case involving a challenge of a superior court judge under CCP 170.1(a)(6)(A)(iii).

      In that case, Judge “A” recused herself for cause from a political custody case involving concerns about child neglect and child sexual abuse. That left the propriety of Judge “A”‘s prior controversial custody rulings open for review by the next assigned judge. The case was assigned to Judge “B”. Judge “B” had just been re-elected a few months earlier. Judge “B”‘s campaign treasurer was Judge “A”s husband. Judge “B”‘s top campaign donor was Judge “A”‘s husband’s law firm, and the campaign was run out of that law firm’s address– and Judge “A”‘s economic disclosures indicate she has a $100,000-$1,000,000 interest in that law firm. Multiple other individuals involved in the case–lawyers, law enforcement, etc., had given campaign money to Judge “B”. The mother asked for reassignment, which was refused. She challenged Judge “B”, under the A+B=C theory, and it went all the way to the CA Supreme Court–which refused to take the case. The mother, with her concerns about neglect and possible sexual abuse of her young daughter, was left twisting in the wind, in Judge “B”‘s courtroom.

      That 2007 case is one reason why Ron and Ming needed “official” approval in order to justify breaking state law in 2010.

      Why is this relevant to this discussion? Because top leadership does whatever it wants to, when it wants to, and how it wants to, whether it is fair and legal and good for the public. . . .or not. I mean–did we really did that CIC report, telling us it is OK for Ron and Ming to take big campaign money–or could that CIC money and time (well over two years) and effort have been better spent elsewhere?

      By the way, Big Ron appointed Judge “A” to his Commission on Impartial Courts.

      • I think you just proved the counter-point to your argument. Your contention is that CCP 170.1 already provides a remedy in the form of discretionary disqualification, and that under an objective standard decided by a neutral fact-finder, a judge with a sizeable campaign contributor in the case would be out. Except that in your example, that’s exactly what DIDN’T happen and there was no remedy for the litigant alleging a conflict. At least with a mandatory disqualification limit, Judge B could be disciplined or removed from the bench for indulging a clearly defined conflict, and the proof would be as simple as showing the cancelled check and the failure to disqualify. I imagine that even to the lowest common denominator, that would create a strong disincentive to hear cases with a contribution-generated conflict. That disincentive clearly isn’t happening now in the example you just cited.

        Would it be better for the Legislature to weigh in with a strict limit that says Judge A, B, or whoever shall not accept campaign contributions in excess of whatever limit they set or face criminal and civil consequences like every other elected official already faces? Probably. Is that happening any time soon? Doubtful, but I welcome any citation you can give me to pending legislation to fix the problem you’ve identified.

        You appear to have a serious degree of skepticism regarding the efficacy of CCP 170.1 as currently enforced – it appears from the example you cited that you believe that the objective standard is not sufficiently enforced and neutral fact finders are few and far between. If you’re correct, the solution is more regulation and more specific regulation, not the status quo. As I’ve said before, I believe it’s fair game to argue over the amount of the limit, and that $25K and above is too high in my book. But I still don’t see how citing examples of how the current system doesn’t work provides support for an argument opposing a bright-line rule where one doesn’t already exist.

      • Obi-Wan Kenobi

        The bright line rule is insufficient and contrary to public interest. The thought that Justice George and Justice Chin should be able to accept donations of $25,000.00 and have only two years to recuse themselves from donor cases is insufficient. At minimum, it should consist of an entire election cycle of recusal and as a citizen, I’m disturbed by the amount of money on the table.

        Let’s toss out a for instance case example-

        Let’s say the “company x good government fund ” wishes to make a sizable donation to the re-election of justices George & Chin while an AG lawsuit is pending across the street. They give 25K apiece to the justices. Let’s say there is no favorable outcome for company x in the trial courts and they appeal all the way to the supreme court. That case is going cross their desks in 4 to 6 years and yet the appearance that influence was purchased during the current election cycle remains on the table. Is there no obligation to recuse?

        The bright line is ineffectual in both appearance and execution and if it takes legislation to correct, then legislation will eventually correct it.

  26. SF Court Observer

    Judge Dredd,

    In the course of “doing my own research” did you happen to research how those serving on the CIC happened to be on this panel. When a panel or board is hand selected there is a high likelihood of a very predictable outcome. Did your “own research” cause you to believe that the CIC arrived at any conclusions that CJ George opposes?—-It’s all predictable, manipulated, orchestrated—-and that seems to be just fine with you—keep up your research, but don’t dig too deeply, you might be alarmed by what you learn.

  27. Does anyone know why Lynn Holton is being paid by taxpayers to hold the officer role of Public Information Officer for the Judicial Council/AOC (reported 2009 salary of $126,537), yet Philip Carrizosa, a Senior Communications Specialist in the Office of Communications (reported 2009 salary of $92,110) is now the “AOC spokesperson”? That is over $218,000 in taxpayer money being spent for two press positions, but neither person truly fulfills an officer role of PIO for the Judicial Council/AOC.

    If the JC/AOC does not have a real PIO, they should eliminate the position. There is no such thing as two different agencies – the Council is a policy-making body that meets half a dozen times a year and there are no offices for its members. The JC/AOC is the same ball of wax in the eyes of the Legislature. Unless Ms. Holton has moved over to the California Supreme Court, she is still a JC/AOC employee. Are we paying Ms. Holton a large salary to give press releases whenever she is asked to? Does she even write them, or does Beth Jay have final approval as an employee of the Chief?

    And exactly WHO is Mr. Carrizosa speaking for when he says “we” to the press? The AOC, the Judicial Council, or the Chief Justice? I find this state agency maddeningly confused (and when you start to examine it, clearly wasteful and disorganized).

  28. JusticeCalifornia

    Obi, well said.

    And Fly On the Wall–I think you misunderstand my argument.

    My position is that presently under the A+B=C equation defined EXACTLY as stated above, CA law prohibits a judge from taking campaign contributions from those who appear before them. Period. Disqualification is not discretionary, it is mandatory under the statute. Do you disagree? I really would appreciate an answer from someone about this. (Judge Dredd?)

    “Brightline” limits –even those that seem reasonable–create problems, albeit on a smaller scale. For example, at the superior court level: Suppose that during a retention election, the lawyer for one side of a case in an ongoing trial approached the judge during a lunchtime break, shook his hand, slapped him on the back, and pressed a $100 bill into the judge’s hand, and the judge took the money and continued to rule in the trial. Do you think the public would reasonably doubt the judge’s ability to rule impartially? Even if the judge announced after the lunchtime break that this had happened do you think the other side would think this was fine? And if the judge ruled for the lawyer who had pressed the $100 into the palm of the judge, do you think the losing party would always question the impartiality of the judge? I think if you asked those questions of John Q. Public, and even most judges, the answer would be obvious. It just doesn’t look right.

    I understand this is a very sensitive problem for judges faced with retention elections, but it is also a very big problem for litigants and lawyers faced with these situations.

    And a core issue here, for purposes of this discussion, is that Ron and Ming were both acutely aware of the campaign contribution problems, and also of the budget issues involving the judicial branch. They nevertheless used public funds and limited judicial branch time and resources to blast ahead with their carefully orchestrated CIC and JC agenda, in order to meet their own immediate desire for JC permission to take BIG bucks during their 2010 Supreme Court retention elections. At worst they are violating and recommending violation of CA law, and at best they have seriously undermined the public trust in the judicial branch. This is NOT judicial leadership at its finest.

    • JC – I understand that your argument is that CCP 170.1 requires recusal for any contribution by a litigant or lawyer in any amount and that it’s mandatory. But removing the more inflammatory circumstances from your example (contribution taking place in the hallway while a case is pending) I think that your argument about $100 vs. $25,000 is unpersuasive. I don’t think that a person aware of the facts would reasonably believe that a judge who took a $100 campaign contribution from a person within the last 2 years should automatically be disqualified from all cases involving that person, and I don’t think the surveys you cited prove otherwise. Asking a general question about whether “a campaign contribution” results in a favorable outcome doesn’t tell you much. Does the questioner mean a $5 contribution or a $500,000 contribution? What does the person answering think the question means? And would you get different answers from the survey participants if you used different contribution amounts in the question? You betcha. That’s where I think your A+B=C logic breaks down. Not all contributions are equal, and amounts do matter in assessing how reasonable the perception of a conflict is.

      The key weasel-word in CCP 170.1 and Canon 3 is “reasonable”, and just by looking at some of the variation on this blog you can see that different individuals define what a “reasonable” doubt about a judge’s impartiality would look like. If each of us was a judge ruling on a litigant’s contribution-based CCP 170.1 challenge to another judge, we’d probably come to different conclusions – based precisely on the fact that in some instances we disagree about when it’s reasonable to doubt a judge’s impartiality based on a campaign contribution. (Anybody who’s ever tried a criminal case can tell you how much variation is possible when dealing with a standard based on reasonable doubt.) So while you argue it’s mandatory, it appears that not all fact finders agree with you. By your own example above, your interpretation of CCP 170.1’s provisions is not being applied currently across the board. And while you’re free to argue that everyone who disagrees with you on the correct interpretation of CCP 170.1 is obviously wrong, it seems more productive to me to suggest a more clearly worded alternative that removes the potential for varying interpretations – like a bright-line limit. Even with a bright-line limit, disqualification based on the current language of CCP 170.1 and Canon 3 is always an option for any judge who believes that the appearance of impropriety is a problem even for smaller contributions.

      I understand Obi-Wan’s argument that the proposal by the CIC is insufficient, and that a policy that sets the “limit” too high runs the risk of legitimizing contribution amounts that many judges might already agree are prohibited by CCP 170.1. I’m just wondering exactly how you think judicial elections, retention or otherwise, ought to be funded, and whether you believe any contributions from anyone should be allowed. After all, how does a judge know whether someone will or won’t appear before them for the next two to six years? And if they can’t take contributions from people familiar with their performance, how exactly are judges supposed to fund a campaign, unless you’re suggesting we limit bench membership to those folks who are able to self-fund a judicial election?

      I don’t disagree with Obi-Wan’s point that a $25K disqualification threshold that expires in two years is too much and too quick, and that if I were designing a policy the limit would be much lower and the disqualification period much longer. I also don’t think that anyone who suggests otherwise, even a sitting justice, must be doing so out of a corrupt and self-interested motive. It disturbs me that people seem so willing to ascribe those qualities to Chief Justice George and Justice Chin on so little evidence in this context. It’s one thing to call them bad managers and say they’ve made extremely poor decisions about branch governance. You’ll get no argument from me that they haven’t engaged in “judicial leadership at its finest.” But just as others have pointed out that the Chief’s name-calling of his opponents is juvenile and unproductive, I think it undermines the purpose of this blog to engage in the kind of character attacks that have sometimes accompanied this particular argument.

      Now I know I’m about to draw fire for suggesting in this forum that maybe the Chief Justice and Justice Chin are not in cahoots to rake in the donations, and that they were legitimately if ineffectually trying to address an issue that most folks who’ve commented here believe is a problem. I haven’t seen anyone yet argue that our current judicial campaign finance policy works well and should continue unmodified. I’m a little puzzled why, when everyone seems to agree that the system needs to be changed, they’re getting slammed for trying to change it. Who else in the judicial or legislative arena right now has stepped up with a better practical alternative?

      • I appreciate your analysis FOW. Those of us who teach judicial ethics and serve on ethics committees have wrestled with these issues quite a bit, and the discussions always come back to the very concerns you note.

        Tim Fall
        Judge, Yolo Superior Court

  29. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    I think that the appropriate guidance with respect to what is an apprpriate donation can be found in FPPC limitations for “All statewide positions except the Governor” and justices fit that description well.

    On the issue of recusal, I think an entire election cycle is appropriate.

    It is in defining a contribution limitation set for the office of the governor and not “all statewide offices except governor” that offends common sensibilities. With respect to attacks on Chin and George for being poor managers, there is a point where poor management crosses a threshhold that can be characterized as unbecoming of a person entrusted with such responsibilies.

    As justices, I have no issue with either of them or their various rulings or demeanor on the bench.

    As managers, they’re fair game. Many question many of the decisions they’ve made and more people are questioning many of these same decisions every day. There comes a point where even the most ignorant of people comes to the realization that this poor management might rise to an entirely different level than merely poor management. Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to poor management and politics to mere technique. Ethics is not only doing the right thing, it’s about doing the right thing when no one is looking; its about taking ownership of both your successes and your failures and having the capacity to admit fallability.

    • FlyOnTheWall

      Obi – I should clarify my earlier post. When I talked about character attacks accompanying “this particular argument” I was talking specifically about the campaign finance argument and the insinuations of corruption. I agree with you that their management decisions and demeanor are fair game, and that most of the points discussed on this blog on those topics are on target – including your latest one.

      • Obi-Wan Kenobi

        If I understand the characterization correctly, a management decision came upon the heels of a commissioned study. Some of those participants in said study had vested interests in its outcome. As a result of this study a (campaign/guidance) management decision was made to choose the statewide “governor” limitation to campaign contributions rather than take what most common people would interpret as being “the high road” and limiting these contributions to those of “all statewide offices except governor”.

        This was not a legal opinion from the bench. It was a management decision that was not even a part of the study. When you look at the decision itself and how it was introduced – not as a part of the commissions study but as a part of open council discussion one is left questioning the prudence, timing and ethical appearances of the amount of money involved and the incredibly short time for elective (which should probably be mandatory) recusal.

        When one weighs this management decision with others, including issues of governance, unlicensed contractors, courthouses that cost 3 to 4 times all available cost estimators, a software package that is about to set a guinness world record, questionable raises for a limited in-favor few at the AOC, court closures, layoffs, the termination of whistleblowers, a number of questionable hires, appointments and promotions, sexual discrimination and harassment in the face of an open EEOC complaint and a marked lack of checks and balances from any direction then one is left to question everything and the issues of motivations in all of these leadership failures comes into question.

        It isn’t the issue of solely the campaign contributions that serves as insinuating the possibility that corruption exists, it is the collective decisionmaking that makes one wonder who is benefitting from all of these poor decisions that have the outward appearance of creating the perfect environment for corruption to flourish unchecked. Because it’s not the taxpayer, the judicial branch as a whole, the persons seeking access to justice, judicial branch employees or trial court judges that are seeing any benefit to these collective management decisions. In fact, many of these poor decisions are a distraction to the various missions that judicial branch employees are responsible for carrying out at all levels.

        And so, the question remains, who is benefitting from these questionable decisions and I respectfully submit that at least in one case, a campaign limitation that matches the governor as opposed to the lower limits of other statewide office holders stands to benefit a precious few.

  30. JusticeCalifornia

    I was stunned into awed silence by Obi’s astute and on-point remarks.
    I am now following up on Fly on the Wall’s (FOW) comments and queries about the CIC campaign contribution recommendations.
    FOW mentions that “reasonable” is the ‘weasel word’ in this discussion. Here is the wikipedia definition of “weasel word”:
    “The expression weasel word derives from the egg-eating habits of weasels. An egg that a weasel has sucked will look intact to the casual observer, while actually being empty. Thus, words or claims that turn out to be empty upon analysis are known as “weasel words”.
    I do agree that our Chief Justice and his hand-picked CIC, and JC, are trying to suck the life and substance out of CCP 170.1 (a) (6)(A)(iii) and the Code of Judicial Ethics regarding the campaign contribution mess. I am not arguing with FOW about that. So what can be done about it? Well, let’s see. Here are my weekend thoughts:
    I believe FOW has acknowledged that in determining what is “reasonable” the measure is set by the public at large (“a person aware of the facts”), and would further acknowledge that instead, the campaign contribution “bar” has just been set by CA Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George, who is facing an imminent 2010 retention election, and his hand-picked CIC appointees, including, among many others, CA Supreme Court associate justice Ming Chin (“ judges facing retention elections aware of the facts”).
    In early 2007, Stanford Law School hosted a panel discussion about judges accepting campaign contributions. The panel featured former Judges LaDoris Cordell and Roger Warren and was moderated by former Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan. Judge Cordell opined that contributions in any amount were improper, because judges know who is giving them money, and who is not, and that naturally affects a judge. (This excellent discussion was taped and used to be available online–now it appears to be available in the Stanford library.) Multiple studies and surveys support this view, and indicate that the public finds the entire concept of judges accepting money from those who appear before them to be repugnant.
    Yes, this creates an ethical dilemma for judges– how are judges supposed to fund retention elections?
    Perhaps the answer to this important hot-button issue is to have an impeccable outside source conduct a comprehensive statewide survey of the public in general to find out at what minimum contribution level the public believes a presumption of influence arises, and for how long that presumption lasts. At the commencement of a case a litigant could elect to summarily disqualify the judge if the case involves someone who gave a contribution within the time frame, and in an amount exceeding, the threshold level that raises a presumption of influence. Contributions below the presumptive limit would be subject to normal 170.1 challenge procedures.
    An approach such as that, or another that takes public opinion into account, would be consistent with (instead of sucking the life out of) CA law and the Code of Judicial Ethics, and evidence a genuine commitment to protecting the public’s trust and confidence in the judiciary.
    And let me be clear. I am NOT attacking all those hardworking, justice-loving judges out there, many of whom I have practiced before. I am calling out the weasels.

    • Hi JusticeCalifornia:

      If we simple do away with judicial elections, whether retention or contested, won’t that avoid the problems you raise? Of course, a lot of people will be able to identify new problems should judges not be subject to electoral review, but at least it will solve the problems identified in your posts. Is that the answer you seek?

      Essentially, the ethical analysis for judicial elections, not just in California but in other states as well, have come to the conclusion that if a state’s residents want to elect judges then the state’s voters also (tacitly at least) have agreed to allow judges to collect campaign contributions. The electorate can’t have it both ways. So the answer has been to place ethical restrictions on campaign fund raising.

      Whether the present ethical revisions (the CIC recommendations) are the best way to go will, I hope, be the subject of discussion. Amounts of contributions and length of time for requiring disclosure or disqualification should be carefully considered. But keep in mind that just because public opinion says campaign contributions affect a judge in a particular way does not make it so.

      A judge is required to recuse himself or herself from a case under the statute you have mentioned (CCP 170.1(a)(6)(A)(iii) only if “A person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that the judge would be able to be impartial.” The doubt has to be reasonable and grounded in fact; an unreasonable doubt based on surmise puts the judge under no obligation to do anything.

      The good part about this, at least for those appearing in the trial courts, is that judges not only have to adhere to this standard, but if a party thinks a judge has not done so the party can seek review by another judge (CCP 170.3). Every year such challenges are brought and in some cases the reviewing judge rules that a disqualification exists, just as in other cases reviewing judges have decided there is no disqualification.

      How will the parties know whether to bring such a motion for disqualification? Again, in the trial courts the judges must follow Canon 3E(2) of the Code of Judicial Ethics: “In all trial court proceedings, a judge shall disclose on the record
      information that is reasonably relevant to the question of disqualification under Code of Civil Procedure section 170.1, even if the judge believes there is no actual basis for disqualification.”

      Judges who fail to make the required disclosure are subject to being hauled before the Commission on Judicial Performance. Read the CJP annual report and you will see discipline handed down for failing to follow the proper disqualification and disclosure procedures.

      Of course, I have only mentioned the statutes and canon that apply to the trial courts. But I wanted to point out that your concerns, in so far as they pertain to trial judges and campaign contributions, may already have an answer under California law and experience.

      Cheers,
      Tim Fall
      Judge, Yolo Superior Court

  31. SF Court Observer

    Judge Fall,

    You describe a process that is as broken as the finances of our court system. The process of actually bringing a 170.1 challenge and it getting a fair and impartial hearing has become laughable. The motion for disqualification is typically directed for review by a Judge that has been previously challenged or can otherwise be relied upon to provide a predictable outcome. I am aware of a 170.1 that is presently making it’s way through a county in our fair State. The parties actually stipulated to have the matter reviewed by a Judge of THEIR selection and the PJ there will simply not hear of it—-The PJ is absolutely determined that the matter be reviewed by his hand selected choice. It is events such as these that make the process meaningless—-If the 170.1 process actually involved a fair and impartial review as you suggest our system would have the benefit of accountability—as things are —we ALL know it is a joke—-

    Judge Fall—please take a look at the actual numbers at the CJP—-It is my understanding that they received over 900 complaints last year. They actually accepted somewhere around 35 for review and acted upon 22—? I think the numbers alone suggest there is no great cause for any Judge to be concerned about “admonishment”….

  32. Wendy Darling

    Isn’t this what usually happens when you have the very people who are engaging in the unethical misconduct investigating themselves?

    • Hi Wendy D:

      Most of the CJP members are not judges. As for the 3 judges who are on the commission, in all the years I have been involved in judicial ethics I have never seen any evidence that the fact they are judges has ever interfered with a thorough investigation of ethics complaints. This applies to past members as well. As for the non judge members who make up the majority, I bet no one can point to any real evidence that they ever let the judge members sway them from carrying out their duties either.

      Tim Fall
      Judge, Yolo Superior Court

      • Wendy Darling

        Hello Judge Fall,

        I offer an apology, and I meant no disrespect on any member of the Council on Judicial Performance. My question was directed in a more general sense, for example when the AOC employees need to file a whistleblower complaint regarding misconduct taking place within the branch/the AOC, the California Office of the Attorney General has stated the AG’s office has no jurisdiction and the employee must file their whistleblower complaint with … the Administrative Office of the Courts, thereby resulting in the AOC investigating itself, with predictable results.

        And I agree with you – I am not aware of any circumstance where a judge on the CJP has permitted the fact that they are a judge to interfere with a thorough investigation of ethics complaints. I just wish that we could all say the same about the AOC.

      • My mistake, Wendy Darling! I assumed you were responding to SF Court Observer’s comments regarding the CJP, and that was another instance my poor communication skill rearing its ugly head once again.

        Sorry to have caused any discomfort!

        Tim Fall
        Judge, Yolo Superior Court

  33. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    Some states permit any party to request recusal of one judge, one time, for no reason at all!

    Some states require recusal on any conflict whatsoever. With some 1800 or so active judges throughout the state, we can afford to liberalize the issue of recusal. Nobody should have to prove impartiality. That bar is too high.

    No one will be harmed by granting a non-procedural recusal either one time or on the basis of any conflict whatsoever.

    • Hi O-WK:

      Isn’t CCP 170.6 the same thing, since the statute allows each side one opportunity to disqualify a judge for any reason or for no reason at all?

      Tim Fall
      Judge, Yolo Superior Court

      • JusticeCalifornia

        Hi Judge Fall,

        You only get one CCP 170.6, during the pendency of your case, however long that is, and however many different judges are assigned, unless you appeal and win–in which case you can also ask for a new judge. Isn’t that right?

        To respond to your other prior comments:

        I am not suggesting elimination of the current judicial selection system at this time. I am suggesting a serious inquiry into the available options, and an informed, reasoned approach to setting campaign contribution limits and disclosure requirements, if such limits are going to be set.

        Yes, the legislature has put in place a system that, in theory, should work to protect the public with respect to trial courts, but in practice, does not. There are ever so many stories about this, all documented.

        I recounted, above, the story of Judge “A” and Judge “B” — that is a true and sad story. In that story, Judge “B” was asked to reveal his connections to Judge “A” and others involved in the case. Notwithstanding Canon 3 he refused to disclose them. A trip to the elections office to review his campaign disclosures was required.

        And yes, CCP 170.3 may allow, or actually mandate–review of a CCP 170.1 challenge for cause by an outside judge. But —

        I have seen Ron George assign a CCP 170.1 ethical challenge of one judge for cause, to another judge who had been publicly admonished by the Commission on Judicial Performance for backdating an order, and lying about it.

        I have seen Ron George assign a different ethical challenge of a judge, to a judge that sits with the challenged judge on the editorial board of the California Courts magazine–and there are only a few judges on that board.

        When asked about this practice of assigning CCP 170.1 challenges to judges who had patent or apparent conflicts of interest, Brad Campbell, of the assigned judges program, explained that the AOC assigned judges program “doesn’t keep a conflicts list”. Alrighty then. . . .

        And, of course, I have seen certain ethically challenged judges deny their own CCP 170.1 challenges, and strike them from the record, so no one can see what happened. . . .

        Litigants are left to file a writ in the court of appeal, and we know that well over 95% of appellate writs are summarily denied, without consideration or discussion of the facts and law. The remedy of appeal – so the litigant can actually get a written opinion discussing the merits of the judicial misconduct issue– is not available with respect to CCP 170.1 challenges, except in extraordinary cases, after a writ was filed and denied, and the ultimate decision is taken up on appeal. On one occasion when I personally saw this happen, I watched the court of appeal, in an unpublished opinion, carefully sidestep, and refuse to address, the judicial misconduct issue raised by the litigant. This behavior—called “intellectual dishonesty” in legal circles, is the judicial equivalent of the “walk of shame”.

        As for the Commission on Judicial Performance—we know they have a budget that is a tiny fraction of the massive CA judiciary they are charged with policing ($4million vs. $4 billion). The CJP has had vacancies on their staff for years, and simply does not have the resources to properly investigate the 1,000-plus or minus cases of alleged judicial misconduct per year brought to them. They act on what—15-30 cases per year? Further, as was announced at the December 2009 Judicial Council meeting, they do not investigate while a case is ongoing.

        Someone on this blog said that court leadership appointees are one degree of separation away from scandal. Well, people reporting conflicts of interest to the CJP, face this:

        http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2001-10-30/article/7913?headline=Top-attorney-of-watchdog-group-at-center-of-controversy

        http://articles.latimes.com/1994-06-20/news/mn-6353_1_commission-on-judicial-performance

        http://www.metnews.com/articles/henl102601.htm

        http://articles.sfgate.com/2002-02-12/news/17529339_1_disciplinary-case-judicial-performance-free-speech

        http://articles.latimes.com/2001/oct/28/local/me-62603

        The fact is, judicial oversight measures are being routinely circumvented. People who complain suffer brutal judicial retaliation (I expect that some of those reading this blog, court employees and judges alike, have experienced, or will in the not too distant future experience, such retaliation). So who puts the brakes on Ron George and his “top leadership” cadre? No one. I invite you to read Senator Steinberg’s and Justice Rivera’s comments to the CIC report, questioning why Judicial Performance Evaluations of some kind are not included in the CIC recommendations. The Judicial Council’s own experts have repeatedly recommended them as a preferred judicial accountability measure. JPEs would allow the public, attorneys, court personnel/employees, and others to weigh in on whether judges at ALL levels (including Big Ron’s) are complying with the Code of Judicial Ethics.

        Judge Fall, you may have had no idea what you were getting yourself into as you stepped forward to question current leadership, but now that you are here, you are in a remarkable position – at a fortuitous moment in time– to take meaningful steps to turn the CA judiciary around. You just have to do what certain others have done, years ago—step through the looking glass, do what’s right, and don’t look back until the job is done.

      • Obi-Wan Kenobi

        Is this still not an elective recusal where the judge still makes the determination? (ccp 170.6?)

      • Nope.

  34. Wendy Darling

    For those of you with access to The Daily Journal, the latest from Amy Yarbrough on the AOC, titled “Court Spending on Temp Work Soars Amid Hiring Freeze, published today, Tuesday, March 30th.

  35. Judicial Observer

    According to the article, during their so called “hiring freeze” and over just the past 6 months, the AOC has used in excess of 55 temporary employees. The AOC’s contract with one temporary agency amounts to $3,026,454 since September 2008.

    The article also states that the AOC has continued to hire permanent employees since the publication of the last hiring freeze exposé by the Daily Journal. According to the AOC, all these persons are necessary so that the AOC could continue work on badly needed projects.

    Guess those projects are more important than financing the day to day operations of the trial courts. And AOC, just what is the correct definition of “hiring freeze?” Is it like “raises” not being the same as merit increases?