California Courts Suffer Cuts In Staff…Meanwhile, at AOC Death Star Headquarters

In a bit of news that should come as NO surprise to anyone who has been following the AOC these past couple years, Amy Yarbrough of the Daily Journal reported in an article today that the AOC’s budget for temporary employees has soared in the middle of one of the worst financial crises that the California superior courts have ever faced.

While courts up and down the state have or are planning to lay off regular staff employees, the AOC has been on a hiring spree for the past two years spending well over a million dollars to two temp agencies.

From the article.

According to records provided by the State Controller’s Office, the AOC paid two staffing agencies, Wollborg Michelson and AppleOne, $843,674 in 2006. By 2008, well into the economic downturn, payments peaked at $1.37 million.

The agency’s spending on temporary workers dipped last year to $1.29 million, records show, but that figure is still 53 percent higher than in 2006. More than 20 of the temporary staffers have worked at the AOC since July, according to an internal agency document; one has been on the payroll for about a year.

Of course if you’ve been following this blog since its inception then you’ll know that I’ve touched on this issue of the AOC continuing to hire temporary employees while claiming to have a hiring freeze. Then the AOC eventually hired some of those temporary employees and placed them in job positions that nobody had a clue about or placed them into positions that other AOC employees said they were unqualified for.

Again, a portion from this morning’s article.

The AOC said in September that some of the new permanent staffers were needed because the agency was taking over responsibility of courthouses in the 52 counties, and building new facilities to replace dilapidated ones. AOC officials said the freeze included an exemption allowing for the hiring of positions deemed critical.

The internal AOC document indicates that in recent months, the agency has assigned six temporary workers to the Office of Court Construction and Management, the division responsible for the inherited courthouses and construction projects. The rest have been stationed throughout the agency, including nine in the Finance Department and nine more in Human Resources.

Needless to say this article does nothing to repair the lack of faith or trust that court employees have for the AOC. What goes for the rest of the state in terms of layoffs, furloughs, and slashed wages doesn’t necessarily go for the AOC which appears to change the rules whenever it feels it’s appropriate for its own needs.

AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa defended the use of temporary workers, saying the extra bodies were needed to continue important projects.

“The AOC saves money by using such workers as needed to continue work on badly needed projects even in light of the current freeze on hiring except in critical positions,” he said.

Important projects? Whatever could those “important projects be?” And why should the AOC’s “badly needed projects” be any more important than the badly needed projects and increased work loads that all of the courts have had to suffer since the inception of court closures and furloughs?

Isn’t it, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?” Except in this case everything for the AOC is good and everyone else’s goose is cooked.

Advertisements

42 responses to “California Courts Suffer Cuts In Staff…Meanwhile, at AOC Death Star Headquarters

  1. SF Court Observer

    Do you ever speculate upon what sort of ruling a Judge would arrive at if compelled to review management practices such as these if this were a case being litigated?

    If this was a private company it would be closed down or someone would be looking for appointment of a receiver—-What kind of answer is “special projects?”—-what special projects?—-the brilliant computer fiasco?—build some more court houses that can’t be kept open?

    It is amazing that there is not some shame involved in being inept—the AOC seems quite proud of their “accomplishments”…..?

    There truly should be a call to shut them down—or appointment of a receiver—

  2. Yes, yet another example of the AOC approach to things. First they declared a freeze. Then they were caught hiring through the freeze. Then they declared that that freeze wasn’t really a freeze, but a “soft freeze”, sort of squishy, so they could hire right through it with no difficulty whatsoever! Then they declared a “hard freeze”, leading us to believe (well, not me) that they meant to hire NO ONE. They next showed their dedication to cost savings (after raiding the trial court trust fund of the money needed to keep courts open during the mandatory closures) by giving discretionary raises. They railed at the temerity of those who dared object.

    Then, of course, they were caught again hiring through the new “hard freeze” and had some excuse or other. I think it was “we really needed the new hires”. Now they are back at it, adding temps and more permanent positions.

    Mr. Overholt’s first reaction today when ACJ alerted our members and others to the existence of the article was to (1) bad mouth the reporter and (2) call the criticism “absurd”. His words.

    He has now released, semi-publicly, a less angry rejoinder to the article. I have been privileged to see it.It is weak and unconvincing, just like the last three or four explanations on similar subjects.

    I suggested to my colleagues, in an email that was forwarded to Mr. Overholt, that perhaps the AOC should simply hire a full-time staff person, an attorney ideally, who could explain to us the different degrees of “hardness” on these hard freezes. Perhaps the first (soft) freeze was only as hard, say, as sherbert. The second “hardish” freeze was like balsa wood, perhaps. The next approached soft pine, but they are working quite hard to get to the hardwood area, perhaps having arrived at
    cedar. In several years they may hit the metals.

    In the mean time, hire away! (And we haven’t even talked about the consultants yet).

    As for the trial courts? Why, “Let them eat cake!”

  3. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    77 permanent positions eliminated, 55 temps hired, 2 permanent hires, 4 temporary positions that tend to go perm.

    They’re only 11 people short of the 77 permanent positions eliminated.

    A milkshake freeze comes to mind.

  4. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    ….and those remaining 11 positions are likely filled by ‘forever consultants’.

  5. Tonight I went to the AOC web site. According to the web site:

    The AOC has a staff of 750.

    CCMS will be completed in 2010.

    These statements are not correct. Why should anyone believe Mr. Overholt or the press releases by the AOC?

    Thanks again to the press and to Judge Horan.

  6. I hope everyone sees what is happening here. Local courts are being required to reduce staff and service to the public we serve , but the JC/AOC can continue to expand through the hiring of both permanent and temporary employees. How can the JC/AOC explain all this to the 350 people laid off in LA or the countless other local trial court employees who have lost their jobs since last fall? There is a pattern here and that is that the JC/AOC is determined to expand its centralized control at the expense of local courts . Somehow the programs that the JC/AOC believe are so important trump all services local courts try to provide . Of the various temp employees hired by the AOC since 2006 I’d like to know how many of them are working on the failed statewide computer system CCMS or for courthouse construction projects? All of the above just makes clear that the only solution to these problems is reformation of the governance structure of the Judicial Council.

  7. Nathaniel Woodhull

    Great observations by Chuck, Tony and Lando. As to AOC employees, we have no idea as to what the real picture is. Upon close inspection, one can assume that many of those working on CCMS are “off the books”. Hard to believe much of anything that comes from on high.

    • The numbers seems to mean nothing at all. The way you can tell how many people are working for you is count the bodies. Then compare that number to how many bodies you had a year ago. I’ll bet you a slice of trial court cake that they haven’t lost a single spot. They claim to have cut positions, but the jargon they use makes me think what they did was cut positions they were PLANNING on adding, and calling those cuts.

      Since they seem to have trouble even with concrete things, like how many employees they have working up there, it is very easy to understand how their estimates are so wildly off. For example, didn’t they admit to being of by 40% or more on their estimate of how much money the mandatory closures would save?
      When Judge Edmon protested when they took the last bit of trial court trust fund money and moved it to CCMS (70 million or so), she was laughed at for calling it “imprudent”. Well, there they were four months later looking skyward at a council meeting and bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t find 40 million to keep the courts open for the balance of this fiscal year. And these are the guys trying to tell LA how rosy the economic picture is?

      Oversight is totally absent up there. The Chief can’t or won’t bite the bullet and do what is necessary, which is to join in the call for a legislatively created, but judicially RUN oversight group, as suggested by ACJ. (The ACJ approach would, of course, totally preserve judicial independence, if that were really a true concern.) However, the legislature wants oversight, and demands accountability, as do increasing numbers of judges.

      So, in this rock-and-a-hard-place, what will they do? Easy: Faux oversight. Very soon a plan will be floated that will be laughable in its sheer audacity. The “watchdog” suggested will be cuddly, toothless and altogether to the liking of those who fear true accountability. Any guesses?

      • Obi-Wan Kenobi

        J. Clark Kelso ? Tell me it ain’t so. That would be about as faux as can be gotten.

  8. judicial observer

    Judge Horan, I’ll venture a guess about how they will create faux oversight.

    It is not much to imagine. It has been rumored the past week. As they always do, to avoid any real accountability to the public or the legislature and show they are an independent branch of government, I bet they will create some kind of rule of court which provides for another advisory committee made up of the AOC and Judicial Council’s usual sycophants to now review the AOC and Council budget decisions and report that all is well.

    Ahh. No need for the legislature to pass any legislation. No need for any outside examination. No need for trail judges to have any independent oversight or muddy their hands in such affairs. “The Branch” is in control and can do this on its own. Go away critics. Go away legislature. The Council is now awakened and enlightened and will take charge. The Council is now in control. The Council will finally handle this in its own irresponsible iron-fisted way. To you critics who say the Council had abandoned its responsibilities,, you can now go away. Trust us.

    Am I close?

  9. SF Court Observer

    At what point is this recognized as a crisis—?

    In the business world, mismanagement that is so grossly apparent would have real-world implications….Investors, shareholders, Directors…would be lined up to see to it that management was replaced.

    Is there truly nothing short of election to change direction? How bad does this need to get?

  10. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    Let’s look at the options.

    1. Criminal investigation / indictments. By design the only one with any authority according to the AG is Ernesto Fuentes and the FBI. Not likely. Ernesto fired whistleblowers and was undermining investigations when he was inspector general of RTA in L.A. county and is doing the same at the AOC. The feds seem to believe this is a state issue. It took them awhile to latch on to the RTA debacle so it might take them awhile to latch on to the AOC debacle.

    2. Legislative action (of some sort). Lobbying on both sides is pretty fierce. The trump card here is informing the public about what is going on and motivating their voices. Communicate with those standing in those traffic lines via flyers explaining why this line is so horrendous. Most of those people are eligible voters and the perfect captive audience to drive any initiative home. Where else can you get a million possible unique voter signatures a week?

    3. Replace the “board of directors” Whoops, they are all appointed by the chief.

    4. Replace the Chairman (george) and Chief Executive Officer and his management team. (Vickery and his directors) Not likely, the best that anyone can hope for without changes in the laws is the appointment of someone to CJ after a failed election bid.

    5. A shareholder lawsuit to expose the inner workings of the AOC’s various decisions and practices and to clarify some of its obligations under the law.

    6. Anyone else?

  11. Did anyone notice that one of the “critical” positons which the AOC said they had to fill was Kate Howard? For those that don’t know, she was the past AOC chief lobbyist who left about 2 years ago. She is being hired back as a “critical” need employee.

    Does the AOC hear footsteps? Are they worried about the legislature? Is the need for another lobbyist now more important than hundreds of trial court employees in the the mind of the AOC? Me thinks, yes!

  12. WE’ve seen this pattern before : something goes very wrong at AOC and they create a diversion by announcing another Judicial Council committee. But rather than look at the real problem – themselves – the new committee morphfs into something it was never intended to be.
    So watch for this: AOC fires wistleblower and promotes need for wistleblower statute at the trial court level.

    So watch for this : New Judicial Council audit and oversight committee, obstensibly created to watch the AOC is given superpower to also audit/oversee the trial court PJ’s and Exec. Officers.

    So watch for this: News reports critize AOC for temp. hiring practices. So AOC surveys trial courts about their use of temps. and thereafter promotes Rule to control ” abuse” at the trial court level.

    We have all seen this in the past. Expect it in the future.

  13. JusticeCalifornia

    We need whistleblower protection at all court levels.

    We need court oversight at all court levels.

    We have three co-equal branches of government, and they are supposed to monitor, and balance each other out.

    And, foxes should not be guarding the henhouses. At any level, in any of the three branches of government.

    Just my humble opinion. . .

  14. Why have an AOC at all?

    It’s just good that we courts manage our affairs perfectly … otherwise, people might question us on what budget decisions we could have made differently to avoid laying off staff! And that would take focus away from our common enemy, the AOC … without it, we’d have no problems and there’d be no need to blame anyone!

    • Hi Why:

      Are you suggesting that only those who manage their affairs perfectly are allowed to raise concerns about the way government makes its decisions? That would be an interesting political philosophy.

      As for the work of AOC staff, I have always – except for one blessedly singular instance many years ago – been impressed with the quality of people I get to work with there. I have served on committees, faculty and been in contact with AOC staff on regular judge stuff for going on 15 years now. Criticism of the decisions of branch leadership is not by any stretch the same as criticizing the abilities of the staff charged with carrying out those decisions.

      Cheers,
      Tim Fall
      Judge, Yolo Superior Court

      P.S. I do not recall reading any assertions on this blog that the local courts manage their affairs perfectly. Perhaps you can point out one of those posts that led to your comment above.

    • Chuck Horan

      “Why Have An AOC at All?” First of all, great name. Let me give you a very recent example of how the AOC operates and then you tell me:

      As you know, many courts will have to continue some form of closure (I believe the AOC estimates 22 courts are in that situation) after the mandated closures end in June. Those courts will have to decide how best to serve their constituents with no money. The council created a “working group” headed by Judge O’Malley from Contra Costa called “The Limited Court Closure Working Group”. This was a month or so ago. They were to present their recommendations at the April council meeting.

      OK, what happened next? Well, the FIRST thing that happened after the members were selected was that the AOC prepared a long detailed list of proposed MANDATES for the trial courts. They decided, among other things, that closure plans would have to be approved by the RAD (Regional Area Director–a non judge, Sheila Calabro in the case of LA) and in case of dispute, the trial court could “appeal” to Justice Huffman’s committee who had the ultimate say over how the closures (euphemistically called “limited service days”) would be carried out.

      The AOC apparently cared not a whit that the mandates were well in excess of the constitutional powers of the council and would be flat illegal if “ordered” by the Council. (The council, I remind you all, has the constitutional authority to make recommendations to the trial court, and no power at all to issue “directives” or “orders” relative to how the day to day operations of a court occur, including their hours of operation).

      The plan was detailed down to how many hours a day the clerks office had to be open, what sort of notice had to be given to the public, you name it. Now, this plan somehow was released a bit more widely than thought, and everyone and his/her brother began to submit criticism of the report. ACJ of course did so, and distributed our objections to all judges in the state, as well as to the working group members.

      A large number of trial courts weighed in with their objections. Even judges normally quite supportive of the AOC had apparently had enough. The judiciary was uniformly and clearly critical of the draft report. Many pointed out the clearly illegal course charted by the AOC.

      Now, let is bear in mind that this “working group” was not scheduled to meet until April 2–tomorrow. So loud was the outcry, however, that a little over two hours ago the chair of the working group notified the members of the working group that “in light of the many issues that have been raised by all of you, the AOC is revising the draft language now, and will present that revised version to the working group at its April 2 meeting. The guidelines and directives are being recast as Best Practices….”

      Now, part of me wants to applaud this result (assuming it sticks). But part of me notices the obvious–AOC called the shots, even to the terms of surrender. The working group judges HAVE NOT EVEN MET, thus how did the AOC decide to withdraw their proposal? It appears that the working group was surplusage in some very real sense–the group had not even met to decide the direction or goals or policies which should drive their decisions. You know, things like the Constitution, statutes or rules of court already in existence. Before even meeting, the AOC had laid before them a complete document, down to the nth detail, leaving only a few choices. “One from column A, —-nope that’s not on the menu!”

      Indeed, why do we need the AOC? Well, we do not need the AOC as it now exists, which is as a jumbo bureucracy with no apparent conception as to the limits of its own power, and absolutely and completely tone deaf as to their proper SUPPORT role. Every single time the AOC behaves as it did in this instance, moving to the default, knee jerk position of excitedly proclaiming “I know, let’s make up some new mandates!”, they need to be brought to heel by the judges of this state, just like they were this time. Of course, we need an AOC, but in their proper role. We need strong, independent judges a whole lot more.

      • judicial observer

        Tail wagging the dog, eh?

        Let us not forget, this is the same AOC which a few months ago thought it would “help the Department of Finance” and drafted unsolicited legislation which would have obliterated Government Code section 77001’s mandate for a decentralized form of trial court court management and would have also provided for the Judicial Council’s establishing of procedures for each courts selection of the Presiding Judge and Executive Officer. Apparently this “helpful” piece of legislation was also done without the Judicial Council’s knowledge.

        This instant attempt and that past effort show the arrogance of the leadership of the AOC in believing that they, rather than the elected judges, control both the Judicial Council and the trial courts. At least some judges in the courts understand such is not the case and today, as with the prior misguided legislative attempt, put a quick stop to this nonsense.

        Many of us only wish those Judges on the Council and those serving on the so called advisory committees also understood such. If they had, this embarrassing memo would never had gone out, because they would be in control. That it did underscores the need to reform the governance and oversight of AOC management and the Judicial Council as well.

      • Here’s a story on the matter. It does not have the conclusion, however, which is the AOC withdrawing the “mandate” approach (until next time) yesterday.

        http://www.metnews.com/
        and scroll to:

        AOC to Consider Objections to Cost Cutting Proposals.

  15. versal-versal

    What is amazing is that a ” Limited Court Closure Working Group ” was created, never met and despite that a document was published using the word ” Directives” to the local trial courts. One has to ask who was responsible for creating the “Working Group” and who was responsible for writing and sending out the “Directives” to the trial courts. The document itself is Exhibit A in why we need governance change. Neither the Judicial Council or the AOC have the constitutional or statutory power to micromanage our local trial courts. Moreover to have Presiding Judges answerable to AOC Regional Directors and J Huffman is really over the top. Thanks Judicial Observer for reminding us about a similar fiasco, the attempt to amend Government Code 77001 which if passed would have taken from the trial court their power to elect Presiding Judges and hire Court CEO’s. The outrageous effort to accomplish that is Exhibit B in calling for branch governance change. The pattern is clear , consistent and relentless. The only solution is divesting the Judicial Council from the Chief and implementing some form of democratization that would return the Judicial Council and AOC to their proper roles.In the interim speaking for myself , I would hope that all Judges and Court CEOs around the state will start speaking up and taking a stand so that needed branch reform can occur.

    • Chuck Horan

      You make excellent points, V-V.

      If we start with the proposition that the AOC exists to (a) implement the policies of the council and (b) carry out other duties prescribed by statute, how did we arrive at the first draft, which was simply a list of mandates?

      Is the policy of the council that judges are incapable of designing and carrying out policies for their own courts? Is the policy of the council that judges are somehow in need of mandates? If this is the council policy, it has never been expressed, obviously. So how is it that the AOC continually rushes to the “mandate” tool drawer? Is it a matter of “If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail?”

      Has the director of AOC expressed the belief that judges are in need of continual mandates and are somehow mere functionaries of the AOC? Is it because certain staff division heads in AOC have this mindset? If so, where did it come from? Is it just about power?

      In the latest AOC train wreck, the marching orders from the council were not “Create us a working group whose task will be telling judges what to do, and write out the orders”. Rather, staff was to assist the working group. Instead, staff rushed headlong into the project and drafted mandates. Was this because someone in the working group told them to? Supposedly not. So can anyone at AOC explain to me exactly how and why these things occur?

      Do you all remember the old kid shows (“Our Gang” was one) where everyone would be sitting around looking glum because they didn’t have any money to build a clubhouse or buy a scooter or something. The dog would even look glum. Then Alfalfa or someone would jump up and scream, “I KNOW!! WE’LL PUT ON A SHOW!!”, whereupon the others just go WILD with enthusiasm. Is this what happens over at the AOC? Seriously. Or is it the other way around–somebody picks up the phone and says “I think we need to write some mandates for those dullard trial judges. They will never follow mere guidelines, even our great guidelines. We must MAKE them do as we want, because we know better, and we are experts,”whereupon the hapless staffer grumbles and goes along, hating every minute of it. What is the psychology of all of this order this/order that nonsense?

      I would very much like an answer to these questions. Perhaps someone will enlighten me.
      While you are doing so, would you also please answer this one: Has ANYONE at AOC every uttered these words–“Uh, I don’t think AOC or the Council has the authority to do that. We’d better not.”

  16. Nathaniel Woodhull

    Today’s Daily Journal article, as they would say on Seinfeld, “It’s the best Jerry”. The Chief is putting together an oversight committee, that he will appoint the membership of, to keep an eye on the AOC and correct “misconceptions” about the AOC. Isn’t that called Pravda and doesn’t that already exist somewhere else.
    Talk about being completely tone deaf…

  17. ConcernedReConsolidation

    Bravo Judge Horan!
    And now for this morning’s news from Cheryl Miller – as predicted by many, C.J. George has “agreed” to create an Advisory Committee that will review AOC operations and make recommendations to the full Judicial Council, the purpose being, per CJ George, to “correct the misconception” that judicial branch administrators answer to no one and to “improve oversight.” He will appoint all 10 members — the vice chairs of three Judicial Council operating committees, the chair and vice chair of the council’s Presiding Judges Committee, one administrative presiding judge from the courts of appeal, one trial court executive officer, one appellate court administrative officer, one member of the State Bar, and one representative of the CJA.

  18. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    How come I get this taste in my mouth that this committee will be comprised of the usual suspects? I could probably spit out a list of whom will sit on this committee.

    The chief had years to do this and there is a half dozen out of control projects this very second he cares to do nothing about. Does this equate to a free pass on everything that happened before the committee formed?

    Are those who only assemble for 4 hours every two months going to provide meaningful oversight or accept reports, guidance and opinions from the AOC?

    This committee of cronies will not correct any misconceptions. It will be a committee of 10 cronies who will turn the other direction and will frame todays improprieties as tomorrows best practices.

  19. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    If one analyzes its pre-ordained composition, in the words of Judge Horan:

    “It’s worse than the fox guarding the henhouse. It’s a handpicked committee of foxes guarding the henhouse”

    • judicial observer

      But the fox is a wily fox. Look at what he has done.

      The only entities which give him any real concern are the legislature (and only their leadership), along with the California Judge’s Association and the organized Bar. Both of the latter groups have experienced lobbyists and can create distress in the Legislature. It appears they have informed the leadership of the legislature that things are getting out of control. (Remember, a Judicial Council member called the President of CJA a clown for criticizing the AOC step increases at a Judicial Council meeting. This is the olive branch.) And it is only the legislature which he perceives can create governance change and take away his total control.

      As dedicated as the rest of us are, as yet we don’t have much sway in the legislature other than to create an atmosphere causing them to give some lip service into looking into the issues of an out of control judicial branch agency. We are an annoyance, to be sure, but one with little teeth. What we have done is create questions by some of these groups about the fiscal nature of the AOC decisions and the overreach of its management. This is good.

      What the Chief has done now is to co-opt the CJA and the Bar. He has given the Legislature an out. They now can report to the “shrill” and uninformed at the margins that oversight is in place, and it consists of some persons ostensibly not under the direct control of the Chief Justice. In turn, CJA (representing over 90% of the Judges in this state) and the State Bar, representing all the attorney users of the courts, have a seat to the table and become players. Objections to this group will be handled with an “there is just no pleasing some people.”

      Now, more than ever, is the time to seek to organize those of us who share the concerns raised here over the months. If you are a union member, speak to your union and ask for the needed oversight and governance change in the Judicial Branch through your representation in Sacramento. If you are a CJA member concerned about this straw committee and the continued takeover of your local courts, speak out to your board (and also join the ACJ). If you are an ACJ member, ask others to join to support this effort to democratize our branch, so that they cannot be viewed as representing only a small segment of judicial officers. Finally, if you cannot join or belong to any of these organizations, speak out independently and loudly to your legislators, your court leadership, to the public and even to individual Judicial Council members about the waste and upside down policies of the current governance of the branch.

      Now is the time to turn up all your efforts. The passage of the budget creates the opportunity to be heard.

  20. JO: a persistent swarm of tiny nats has driven many a person over the edge.

    This whole notion of a CJ appointed “oversight” committee makes me want to puke. The CJ sure locked it up on who would compromise this committee. Most have already been appointed by him in other capcities! I say lets bet on the 3 open spots: the CEO, the Appellate Administrator and Appellate Justice!

    For the first spot: Mike Roddy, Mike Planet, Tammy Beard….need I go on?
    For the second: the gal from SACTO or Huffmans administrator
    For the third: Justice Ardiz? Justice Huffman, O’Donnell or O’leary….need I go on?

    And who is going to do the work for the committee? of course AOC staff!! No doubt they will have many proposals on how they can be “overseen”.

    Geezzz. If members of the legislature are conjolled by this idiotic move by the CJ they are dummer than I thought.

    And I agree with Obi, how can this committee possibly have the time to truly oversee the AOC?

    For some reason, my feet want to goose step, my right arm is freezing into an upright, slightly angled position from my body, and I have a sudden hankering to read Pravda (aka the Court News) to get the REAL story. Now comrade, where is my government issued pint of Vodka………

  21. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    I think I know the motivation behind King George’s AOC oversight committee being formed by the end of the month.

    I’m told the new whistleblower statute being contemplated turns over whistleblowing function and investigative authority to the Attorney General and that the hearing is the start of next month.

    I couldn’t think of a better place to put that authority. Someone with teeth to investigate and prosecute crimes – and this committee is “reluctantly” being formed so they can go to that hearing and shoot down whistleblower protections for AOC employees, advocating that they can handle matters internally.

    This is one of those areas where people might disagree but when it comes to the possibility that crimes are being committed (and they are) and no one is investigating, then that whole independence of the judiciary argument only sounds like one set of laws for the judiciary and another set of laws for the rest of california. It does not hold water.

    The possibility that effective checks and balances might be put into place is exciting to AOC rank and file workers.

    • JusticeCalifornia

      Thanks to traumatized CA court victims and their families, and disgusted advocates, professionals, and other non-judges who for years (with solid documentation) have been steadfastly visiting with, appealing to, and /or otherwise educating CA members of a) the legislature, b) the bench, and c) law enforcement. . . many in all three branches of CA government are indeed aware of the ethical and legal problems of CA Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George and his increasingly despotic “leadership” of the CA judicial branch. Court victims, and others of those in the three branches of government “aware of the facts”, understand that George, in a most controlling and questionable fashion, has been “calling the shots” and “protecting his own” for going on two decades now. And also that George has a) used public funds to further his personal agenda; and b) been ever so quick and willing to blame the legislature and/or anyone else for the messes he and his hand-picked appointees have made.

      Not well done, “California Supreme Court Chief Justice” Ron George. You give the entire CA court system (the largest in the Western World, as you and yours have bragged) –and your past supporters a very bad name.

      Most Respectfully, it is time to retire.

      With Regret, JC.

      And anyone who wants to call me out, do it right here, right now.

  22. San Francisco Whistle

    I second JC’s invitation for King George to leave the building.

    Unfortunately King George believes that any stench or “bad name” that he has taken on can be resolved by forming another hand-selected committee to clear up “misconceptions” or hire another lobbyist—-

    Respectfully, or otherwise….King George needs to retire before he is lead from the building in handcuffs…

    The handwriting is on the wall, the auditors are going back to Marin County to find the real files under orders if necessary—–I’m sure Kim Turner would love to form a committee to deal with “irregularities” that might appear to create “misconceptions” about how corrupt the workings of one of the 58 counties has been.

    The auditors will soon need to follow their nose and find the way to the stench at the AOC. To understand how a place like Marin County has operated outside the law, with no accountability and now is frantic in efforts to stonewall and frustrate an investigation, one only has to look up the chain of management to the AOC….

  23. One gratifying result of this past week’s events surrounding the AOC’s initial draft of rules is that some of the most vocal opposition came from members of the Court Closure Working Group itself.

    I read letters and emails sent by at least two Presiding Judges and one Administrative Presiding Justice on that working group who were in complete opposition to the AOC drafted mandates for court operations. All of them put it very well, essentially saying that the Courts of Appeal and Superior Courts are not subordinate administrative units of the AOC and these proposed rules were out of line, even unlawful under the provisions of California’s Constitution and statutes. The AOC withdrew it’s draft after that opposition arose.

    The AOC’s take on this has been that the mandatory directives the Court Closure Working Group received before its first meeting were merely meant to assist the initial discussion. But by drafting such a document, the AOC leadership has influenced how the agenda will be set even before the working group has had a chance to meet and start taking about general principles.

    All of this seems to be part of the same pattern shown by the AOC’s proposed amendment to Gov. Code 77001 last summer that the responsibility for administration of local courts be put in the Judicial Council and AOC (including the method of selecting Presiding Judges and Court Executive Officers). Why do the elected officials of this branch need to keep telling branch staff (the AOC decision makers) that they don’t want staff usurping the authority of the branch’s elected officials? I also wonder if the elected members of the Legislative Branch have the same struggles with their top staff leadership.

    Tim Fall
    Judge, Yolo Superior Court

  24. San Francisco Whistle

    There are notable differences and parallels.

    I think one would have to look back to the era of Willie Brown to identify the rule of a despot on the level of King George. Willie held all power in all areas of member’s lives—from the size of your office to your parking space.

    Staff leadership is simply a reflection of discharging the directives of George. It is no small wonder that AOC staff would expect to usurp power—it is the mission statement at the AOC….unfettered power…

  25. versal-versal

    You can’t make this up. The Chief is creating an “Oversight Committee” and he will be appointing the vast majority of the members. Woodhull is right again, how tone deaf can this be? Isn’t it the role of the Judicial Council to oversee the AOC ? As a vast majority of the Judicial Council is also appointed by the Chief, why would we expect this new ” Oversight Committee” to do anything different since they are going to be appointed by the Chief as well. The problem is that one person , the Chief has essentially taken total control of the judicial branch. I have said and will say again, implementation of trial court funding in 1998 never contemplated placing so much power in the hands of one person. Sadly we now see the results of this failed governance structure: billions poured into a case management system that doesn’t work, mandated court closures,multiple efforts to stamp out local control of the courts and continued efforts to marginalize and criticize all that offer dissenting views. While it is a difficult subject to raise , I think those that those that read this blog and beyond have to ask whether or not the Chief should be retained in the next election.

  26. Wendy Darling

    For many, the question of whether or not the current Chief Justice should be retained in the upcoming November election is not only an appropriate issue, it has already been decided in the negative. Given what has come out in the last year regarding the actions, misconduct, questionable ethics, and failed leadership and oversight of the Chief Justice, the Judicial Council, and the AOC, as well as their cover-up and dismissive attitude, should the voters retain the current Chief Justice in November then they will be voting for and accepting a California Judicial Branch infected with corruption.

  27. JusticeCalifornia

    Watch Dr. Phil at 8:00 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) — about how the family law court system is broken — causing great harm to court victims (including the unnecessary and preventable death of a nine month old baby). Instead of spending $2 billion on a failed computer system, and fancy CIC reports funded by taxpayers so that Supreme Court Justices can take $25,900 in campaign contributions, and AOC lawyers hired to help problematic family courts stonewall legislative auditors trying to take a look at what is happening in those problematic family courts, the branch should be working on quality control (judicial and administrative), and figuring out how to keep courts open, and staffed, and professionally and uniformly trained, so domestic violence victims get meaningful assistance and more than a five-minute hearing to deal with very real death threats.

    Just a thought. Watch the show if you get a chance. It puts things in perspective, especially from a court-user’s point of view.

  28. JC, how would I agree with you if that was the only way to deal with the issue. When you have courts that jammed to the max, Judges are not able to give the cases the individual attention that they would like and that the public deserves. Until there is a solution to that, I don’t forsee the situation getting any better. I believe no one would like to see justice served better than superior court judges. Just give them the resources. And no, CCMS $ won’t do it, it will only come with the appointment of more judges or if this can be identified as the issue, the modification of calendars in order to allow judges more time with individual cases.

  29. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    I watched it and admit to being challenged. One one side of the coin, I know a person who spent over a hundred grand trying to win sole custody because that person didn’t believe in shared custody arrangements. This person estimated their former spouse had spent equally as much in these cottage industry services trying to retain shared custody and this was going on for over 8 years. On the other hand, there are these repeated tragedies where the parties should be forced into some sort of counseling to deal with the breakup prior to being granted unsupervised visits. The system does seem to favor those who can pay to play and this is unfortunate.

    The show, for example cited a case where a woman has to pay $200.00 per supervised visit with her child. How much per hour does this equate to? Was there a grandparent or other entrusted party whom could be responsible for supervision for free?

    And how many people can afford 200 bucks these days?

    There are more questions than answers but maybe justicecalifornia has some answers.

  30. JusticeCalifornia

    I have a couple of points to make. I will make them one at a time. Here is the first one:

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does”.

    Here is how that concept is related to last night’s Dr. Phil show (and I am posting this in two parts):

    The Marin family court has been a hotbed of corruption for going on two decades now. For fun background reading, check out:

    http://www.sfweekly.com/2000-10-18/news/odor-odor-in-the-court/

    Presently two bench members (Judge D and Commissioner W) are married to two partners (M and K) from the same law firm.

    M has served as the treasurer for multiple other members of the Marin bench, and M and K’s law firm just happens to have been a) the top campaign donor to multiple judges , and b) the campaign headquarters for multiple judges.

    Last year, if you had a case in the Marin civil division, you would find yourself facing one of three judges — all of whom had used M as their campaign treasurer. If you 170.6’d one, you would end up with another. M and K’s law firm has represented multiple public entities, and reportedly enjoys many court appointments.

    K’s wife W was selected from a field of 60 applicants, to serve as Marin Commissioner. After she was selected, she served with her friend Judge D on the family law bench– so if you 170.6’d one, you would get the other.

    Judge D is Marin’s wealthiest judge, and has a $100,000-$1,000,000 disclosed interest in the M and K’s law firm. Did I mention that Judge D scored the very worst with respect to bias on a 2004 survey done by the Marin County Women Lawyer’s Association?

    Commissioner W, when she first came on the bench, had a $10,000-$100,000 interest in her her hubby K’s law firm. Several years later, the disclosed interest had grown to $100,000- $1,000,000.

    Oh, did I mention another lawyer from M and K’s law firm was hired by the Marin Court to serve as the family law facilitator?

    And of course Marin has Kim Turner as its Court Executive Officer. . .

    So maybe you get the picture of what Marin family court litigants have faced. Meaning, problems there are not related to judicial staffing shortages. Marin has had some really nasty “Judge Lemkau’s” there. In fact, it has been intolerable. Some have been protected at top court leadership levels.

    End of part one.

  31. JusticeCalifornia

    Part Two:

    In 2006, a tiny handful of determined and concerned Marin citizens — sick of corruption– got together, and formed the Center for Judicial Excellence.

    The focus was turned to exposing what was going on in the courts, joining forces with other advocates and groups around the state and country, and mobilizing to create a united voice demanding positive change in the CA court system — most especially improving oversight of the judicial branch. The legislative audit is just one direct result of these united efforts.

    And, through a confluence of events CJE members ended up on the Dr. Phil show last night, and were part of a NATIONAL demand for an overhaul of the family court system. What that overhaul might look like is a matter that deserves serious consideration, and cannot be solved on this blog, but it is NOT the rearrangement of Titanic deck chairs that Ron George’s handpicked Elkins Family Task Force has come up with. (More anon, about that report, which is being presented to the Judicial Council April 23.)

    Moral of the story:

    How many people work for the AOC? 900?
    How many judges are in the alliance? Over 200?
    How many state workers are there statewide?
    How many people desperately want change in the current system? Countless.

    The alliance has AMAZING potential power, and I hope it is being used for maximum benefit of the judicial branch as a whole, and the public it serves, this Spring of 2010. The budget challenges, the political climate, and the widespread awareness of court issues have create a very fertile environment for growth. Nothing is out of reach, so I hope goals are being discussed, and plans are being made to pull toxic weeds out by the roots, and plant seeds of positive change.

    But one thing is clear: the change must include a weeding out of the toxic, corrupt players. And that should be a common, unified, goal of all those interested in true change in the system.
    There are so many terrific CA judges, at all levels, but the toxic, corrupt players are infecting and undermining the integrity of, and public trust in, the entire judicial branch.

    And, in my own, personal opinion, the weeding should start at the top.