And Whistle-Blower Protection for All…(Court Employees)

Seems like Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal of Long Beach is seeking to expand the whistle-blower protections of her bill to cover not only AOC employees but ALL court employees.  According to Cheryl Miller’s article in the Recorder this morning, that would mean a w

For weeks, a political detente has surrounded legislation that would extend whistle-blower protections to Administrative Office of the Courts employees. The AOC wasn’t
thrilled with the bill, but leaders accepted it. Judges were OK with it and, of course, most AOC workers seemed to think it was nifty.

That all changed last week when the bill’s primary author, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, expanded her measure to cover all judicial branch employees — from the courthouse janitor to the Supreme Court clerk — who sound the alarm about workplace wrongdoing.

“Whistle-blower protection isn’t just about protecting employees, it’s about protecting taxpayers and tax dollars,” Lowenthal said Friday. “And we want to protect as many of those as we can. Especially now.”

The idea of expanding the whistle-blower protections of this new bill would probably be welcomed by court employees. Judges however, didn’t seem so crazy about the idea.

The California Judges Association “is greatly concerned with the notion of applying whistle-blower statutes to the trial courts without first doing extensive study,” said CJA President Michael Vicencia.

The amended legislation specifically exempts judges. But they’re never keen on rules that could challenge their courtroom authority. What if, they say, a clerk tells a reporter that a judge’s rulings consistently discriminate against women? The furious judge complains to the court administrator, who in turn disciplines the clerk. Can the clerk then claim whistle-blower retaliation by the administrator? Egregious violators can be fined up to $10,000 and face up to a year in jail.

“We’re going to have to look at this bill very, very carefully,” Vicencia said. “This appears to be fraught with many, many unintended consequences.”

But the idea of expanding the bill’s protections weren’t the only things that upset the judges. The second part of the article dealt with the fact that the AOC had sent out draft rules to all courts regarding the issue of court closures. The AOC basically wanted uniform rules throughout the state that would cover those courts that continued court closures in the next fiscal year. And although the AOC may have believed their “directives and guidelines” to courts were meant with good intentions, some presiding judges believed otherwise viewing the AOC as meddling in their affairs.

“This is exactly why judges and courts around the state increasingly object to the imperial trappings, budget and attitude of the AOC,” Sacramento County Superior Court Presiding Judge Steve White roared in a letter of complaint. The draft, he wrote, “appears to be simply another bureaucratic power grab.”

In a separate letter, Los Angeles County Superior Court Counsel Frederick Bennett called the proposed rules “inconsistent with statute and … unlawful.”

And Kim Dunning, the presiding judge of Orange County Superior Court, wrote that the AOC has no business dictating local court hours. “A trial court’s decision to make some calendars lighter on some days is completely a local matter,” Dunning wrote.

Yesh! Tell us how you really feel. I must say, it’s always refreshing to see PJs stick it to the AOC. Thanks to the negative response to the AOC’s closure guidelines they’ve sent the whole thing back to the drawing board. No doubt to be retuned and refined by some temporary employee recently added to the growing AOC staff…oh, did I say that out loud?

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52 responses to “And Whistle-Blower Protection for All…(Court Employees)

  1. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    The bar here should be saving the state money. If anyone in the judicial branch is being imprudent with respect to the expenditure of government funds, then employees should be able to bring it to the attention of someone with the power to look into the allegation without fear of reprisal.

    A judge in the normal course of his or her duties isn’t likely to be misappropriating public funds. Administrators however have a track record of impropriety. Perhaps, in passing such a law, impropriety can be held in check to everyone’s benefit.

  2. Does someone have a legal definition of what whistle blowing actually is? Before judges start to panic about it applying to court employees, perhaps we need to know that. Or at least I do, if there is someone out there that can define that for me and explain why the judges would be upset about it, would be much appreciated.
    I like Obi have been under the impression that whistle blower protections applied to complaints about fraud, abuse, and waste.
    Judge’s behavior on the bench and at work are already subject to the CJP. And personnel issues already have administrative remedies, the courts, etc. Thanks in advance for enlightening me.

  3. Judge Horan (or anyone on the bench):

    Do you know who is writing the recent directives from the Judicial Council/AOC that have been rejected by Presiding Judges and/or lawyers? Do these memoranda come from a trained lawyer at the AOC, or from some amorphous team?

    The members of the Judicial Council – a constitutionally mandated body – need to ask one another now: What is our duty to protect the judicial branch?

    Hypothetical: Juan works in the Governor’s office. In the past month, he has sent out two high-level communications out to state agency heads. The communications were under the official seal of the Office of the Governor. Both of Juan’s memoranda were met with criticism for being contrary to existing policy, and were sent back immediately to the Governor’s office to be redone.

    As a member of the Governor’s cabinet, what would you advise the Governor regarding the best course of action regarding Juan?

    (Are the trial courts now responsible for helping the JC/AOC craft memoranda that can stand legal muster?)

  4. JusticeCalifornia

    I heard (yes this is hearsay. but pretty good hearsay–anyone can correct me if I am wrong) that initially the legislative plan was to only extend whistleblower protection to the AOC workers– but then, the Judicial Council and AOC themselves suggested extending it to ALL court employees.

    Of course, many seeking judicial accountability have been fighting for whistleblower protection for all court employees for a while now. . .so we should have seen it coming. . .

    Well, here it is: now we see this “back to the drawing board” moan and sigh and delay generated from the AOC and CJA regarding whistleblower protection.

    We can only ask, is this as machiavellian as it seems?

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      If this was an AOC suggestion, it was intentionally made to undermine whistleblower protections for AOC employees. By opting a known objectionable (whistleblower protections for all judicial branch employees) this gets the whole judiciary up in arms. While I don’t wish to speak for the judges that visit here, my understanding is whistleblower protections for actual court employees is something that most judges don’t care for.

      If you are a judge that visits this board, are you for or against whistleblower protections for your own workers?

      The political answer is to study it to death, so my hope is that I don’t see a political answer.

      The AOC has become California’s largest unregulated public works agencies that utterly disclaims public contract code applicability. So it makes sense to either transfer all design and construction to the Department of Gemeral Services or better yet, grant AOC employees whistleblower protections so billions don’t go down the drain in the next 2 years. A “nicety” would be for all judicial branch employees to be able to blow the whistle on impropriety but what is essential in protecting the largest amount of taxpayer money is to grant AOC employees both whistleblower protections and an investigative authority outside of the Judicial Council, the AOC and Chief Justice George, who all share culpability in every questionable event on the table. And it is no suprise that those appointed by the CJ and Mr. Bill are one degree of separation from scandal.

  5. Wendy Darling

    For those of you with subscription access to The Recorder, published today, Wednesday, April 7th, 2010:

    Sacto Court says New System Doesn’t Compute:
    Court officials held a press conference Tuesday to rail at the early version of the AOC’s $1 billion computer upgrade, saying it’s prone to costly failures. http://www.law.com

    • Yep. I got an invite and went. Got an earful. And nothing they described they wanted to do was even close to being difficult to achieve. Oh well.

  6. Judges, I hear ya, I love you, and respect you, but why? Why are you playing into the AOC’s hands by your concern about court staff whistle blowing protections? I tell you the AOC and the CJ knows you all so well inside and out that they are playing you all like the proverbial fiddle and playing to your fears. Don’t freak and stop now….otherwise you can just forget making a difference and being the imputis for important change in the branch. At the risk of being offensive, now is not the time to chicken out. Otherwise, the rest of us may just hang it up. Come on, man up.

  7. JusticeCalifornia

    What happens if a trial court Court Executive Officer has an early morning “shredding party” to get rid of incriminating documents and files?

    What happens if a trial court Court Executive Officer and certain judges hide certain incriminating information, or purposefully make key witnesses unavailable, when a legislative auditor comes through?

    What happens if a trial court Court Executive Officer issues a “gag order” to court employees, telling them NOT to talk to legislative auditors?

    What happens if a trial court register of actions is secretly, and retroactively modified?

    What happens if a trial court Court Executive Officer inexplicably orders available court reporters to sit in their offices, instead of in the court room doing their job, leaving litigants without available reporting services?

    What happens if a trial court Court Executive Officer funnels $650,000 in court contracts to his live-in girlfriend?

    And what happens if trial court employees see any or all of the above, or other bad behavior that is detrimental to the public, and they want to report? Shouldn’t they be covered by whistleblower protection? Why wouldn’t they be?

    Let’s be fair. Accountability should extend throughout the branch.

  8. CourtFlea and Justice California – Well said on all of the points. AOC and CJ know exactly whatt they’re doing. They’re getting the judges to kill the whistleblower bill. Justice, I know you are talking about Marin because those are the things that are happening there. Why is ok to allow that CAO who also happens to sit on the Judicial Council to engage in these behaviors without recourse or employees being free to report these abuses.

  9. Wendy Darling

    For those with subscription access to Cal Law, posted today, Thursday, April 8th from The Recorder, the latest on the Marin court:

    Family Court Audit Reaches Impasse
    The state auditor’s office is threatening to subpoena court officials in Marin and Sacramento counties if they don’t grant access to files and personnel. http://www.law.com

    Don’t be surprised when much of the same conduct takes place with the Chief Justice and Bill Vickrey etc. with the audit that is now beginning by the state auditor’s office at the AOC.

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      The word on the street is that the AOC has already began stonewalling the BSA over CCMS by not supplying them with requested documentation.

      Furthermore, the legislature is still waiting for documentation coming from the AOC with respect to those items that the AOC agreed to provide to the legislature on October 28th, 2009.

  10. These guys have perfected the art of stonewalling…..

  11. JusticeCalifornia

    http://capitolweekly.net/article.php?_c=yr7ga3lp06hm56&xid=yr62vf6nkox10b&done=.yr7ga3lp075m56

    Make sure you read the comments to see what the audit is about.

    Marin CEO Kim Turner (and current Judicial Council Member) and the Judicial Council are stonewalling the legislative audit committee with respect to the Marin Family Court Audit.

    Ron George appointed Kim Turner to the Judicial Council in June, 2009, a year after the proposed audit of 8 family courts, including Marin, was first announced in a June 26, 2008 Capitol Weekly article, and just before the JLAC unanimously approved the audit of the Marin and Sacramento courts in mid 2009.

    This is the type of person George is selecting to sit on the exclusive 27-member Judicial Council, to “advise” him, and allocate court funds, and set policy for the judicial branch:

    From 1999-2005, Turner was the former assistant and right hand woman to former Marin Court Executive Officer John Montgomery. She became the Marin Court Executive Officer in 2005, after Mr. Montgomery was arrested on 10 felony counts of conflict of interest, for funneling over $650,000 in court consulting contracts to his girlfriend, acquiring property with that girlfriend and concealing the acquisitions, and taking out-of-state trips without proper court authorization. Ms. Turner knew about many of Mr. Montomery’s questionable and/or illegal acts, and she and/or assistant Court Executive Officer Karen Richardson signed off on many of them. Yet, Ms. Turner waited until January, 2005, right before an impending financial audit of the Marin courts, to report Mr. Montgomery’s improper conduct to the Marin presiding judge. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/03/27/BAGEIHUH621.DTL&feed=rss.bayarea

    The following is an excerpt from a document entitled “Internal Audit Services Report”(Special Investigation 2005-004) prepared by the Finance Division of the AOC, about John Montgomery, Kim Turner, and Turner’s assistant, Karen Richardson (both former assistants of Mr. Montgomery):

    “Both assistant CEOs indicated that they were signing the expense claims, including travel claims, either under duress or intimidation, or were uncomfortable not signing them. Ms. Turner has also indicated that staff were frequently berated by Mr. Montgomery and were fearful of him. Ms. Turner has also stated that ‘he used this tactic on me only once. . .I advised him that if he ever did that again, he would have my resignation. He knows that I will not tolerate this behavior directed at me.’ This raises a concern as to why she brought the issue to the PJ and the AOC at this time (January 2005) and did not raise it previously”.

    The Administrative Office of the Courts concluded its Special Investigation report with the following paragraph about the Marin Court:

    “The [Marin] court has continued a practice of following local procedures of the county and has not conformed to the AOC policy either concerning documentation or pre-approval of out-of-state travel (policies that became effective February 2004). The compliance with approved policies and procedures required by the Judicial Council/AOC are the specific responsibility of the court executive, Mr. Montgomery. Therefore, non-compliance is also attributable to him. Additionally, the non-compliance can and has led to his benefiting from the travel and other claimed expenses that are either not approved or are questionable. As indicated above, if he has his subordinates approve his claims this practice is also inappropriate and supports a conflict of interest, inappropriate/excessive/unauthorized travel, and questionable reimbursements of expense claims.” ( bold emphasis added.)

    It is notable that one-half of the approximately 180 Marin court employees reportedly signed a petition asking the Marin bench NOT to hire Kim Turner to replace John Montgomery, and, after she was hired anyway, all but a handful of those who signed the petition were replaced by the Marin Court.

    Ron George obviously liked what he saw in Kim Turner. A tarnished yes-woman. Someone he could count on and work with.

    By the way, the Kim Turner info above was provided to the members of the CA legislature who vote on judicial issues, in June of 2009.

  12. Ray O'Light

    How can the AOC not respond to the Legislature? Is this state agency even mentioned in the California constitution?

    I don’t know what the Governor and the Chief Justice are up to, but I do know that both of these lame duck, wealthy white men are each California citizens — under the jurisdiction of the federal government, even if one of them is an Austrian American bodybuilder.

  13. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    Thank you for the articles Justice California!

    So the AOC is behind the nine months of stonewalling both in Marin and Sacramento. It makes sense since they (The AOC) provides the trial courts with “executive placement services” that permit them to place their own supporters or current or former AOC workers in executive posts in the trial courts. I’m sorry but I don’t buy the confidential information argument with respect to the family court files the BSA wishes to see and I can’t wait to hear the argument that the AOC cannot turn over the deloitte files because it might reveal trade secrets to CCMS’s competitors.

  14. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    I should add – if there is impropriety in the Marin and Sacramento courts with respect to these appointments, that this maneuver of stalling the auditors so that they can have a few weeks to sanitize records speaks to the need for whistleblower protections for court employees.

    If I was sitting in the legislative or executive branch, at this point the question is no longer is the judicial branch corrupt, the question is how prevalent and widespread is corruption within the judicial branch and who are the people who stand to benefit ?

  15. JusticeCalifornia

    Front page of today’s Sacramento Bee:

    http://www.sacbee.com/2010/04/09/2666100/state-groups-push-sacramento-marin.html?mi_pluck_action=comment_submitted&qwxq=1913121#Comments_Container

    Judicial Council member/Marin Court CEO Kim Turner and the Marin bench were repeatedly apprised of the ongoing documented problems with Marin Family Court custody mediation personnel and court appointees. Nothing was done to remedy those problems. That is the reason the audit became necessary.

    I guess Judicial Council members get the benefit of AOC legal services to help suppress key information regarding alleged misconduct in their courts?

    And I guess taxpayers are footing the bill to defend against an audit designed to protect them and their families?

    Once again, foxes guarding the henhouse.

  16. Wendy Darling

    The efforts of the AOC to thwart the audits isn’t the only thing the taxpayers are footing the bill the for in order for the AOC to defend the indefensible. Maybe someone from the media will start asking how much money and resources the AOC is reimbursing the Attorney General’s office for the unlicensed contractors litigation, as well as to private law firms for additional defense litigation costs, especially since there’s all those lawyers working at the AOC.

    How many of us ever thought we would see a time that the taxpayers of California would be paying the bill for the California Judicial Branch and the Administrative Office of the Courts to engage in public corruption?

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      Aleut has countersued the AOC for 4 mil + attorneys fees + court costs. Their so-called defense is that the AOC hired a “property manager” and not a “contractor” even though they were acting in the capacity of a general contractor and their contract requires a valid california contractors license.

  17. If I was on a jury, I might side with Aleut. The AOC hired them and the AOC gave them millions of dollars for services rendered. The AOC cannot exempt itself from the California Public Contract Code. The agency had a duty to verify whether the vendor was a licensed contractor (whether or not they wanted a licensed contractor at the time). For the office of the Attorney General to now have to litigate this issue in SF Superior Court for the AOC is an utter embarassment and a complete waste of taxpayer and court resources.

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      It is interesting that you bring up the exemption from public contract code. The AOC does consider themselves exempt from public contract code. A few weeks ago, Office of Court Construction & Management Assistant Director Robert Emerson sent an email copying the entire office of court construction & management and stated verbatim that public contract code does not apply to the judicial branch – a copy of which was forwarded to me.

      • I do not see a Robert Emerson that is a member of the California State Bar. The Judicial Council needs to ask the Administrative Director immediately if this exemption has ever been determined by a legal opinion, and/or if Mr. Emerson is speaking for the entire AOC.

  18. lkng4justice

    Whistleblowing protection in the Superior Courts is long overdue. Most districts do not have any serious protection for workers. It’s well known in the Riverside Superior Court that you cannot challenge a judge. Doing so will result in retaliation and eventual termination. Supervisors will invariably side with a judicial officer; HR will take no action at all. There needs to be an independent committee that employees can turn to. Representative Lowenthal has the right idea.

  19. Obi-Wan Kenobi

    Public Contract Code Section 100 (d) – and any purported exemption, with verifiable proof that the AOC clearly violated public contract code in many respects should serve as the basis of a legislative, Attorney General or federal investigation.

    I think that any lay person can draw a straight line between a belief of exemption to laws and intentional disregard of those laws that has repeatedly resulted in these laws being violated.

    Elsewhere in other states, state entities struggled with corrupted judiciaries and their administrative offices for many years before the feds got involved and cleaned things up.

    I wish to believe that our legislators, judges and court executive officers would recognise that where there is a significant amount of smoke blowing in all directions, there is a fire. The issue here is all of those rules that tie the hands of the judiciary from saying “where there is smoke, there is fire”. They seemingly are restricted to making references of governance, possibly under judicial cannons.

    100. The Legislature finds and declares that placing all public contract law in one code will make that law clearer and easier to find. Further, it is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this code to achieve the following objectives:
    (a) To clarify the law with respect to competitive bidding requirements.
    (b) To ensure full compliance with competitive bidding statutes as a means of protecting the public from misuse of public funds.
    (c) To provide all qualified bidders with a fair opportunity to enter the bidding process, thereby stimulating competition in a manner conducive to sound fiscal practices.
    (d) To eliminate favoritism, fraud, and corruption in the awarding of public contracts.

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      Then again, maybe we will be fortunate enough to observe the AOC oversight committee pursue this matter with vigor and get to the bottom of it. After all, isn’t that their mission?

      Don’t hold your breath.

      King George stated that there was no particular reason that this committee was being formed so these matters aren’t on their radar now and likely won’t be on their radar in the future.

  20. JusticeCalifornia

    I am sure all of these discussions are “on the radar” of the chief and his advisors. They are assessing the options, and the strength of the opposition. But I think the underlying problem here is that you can’t teach the proverbial old dogs new tricks.

    The handwriting on the wall. When certain members of the judicial branch intentionally use their judicial power:

    as a sword to slay critics. . . .

    as a shield to protect lawbreaking activity of certain of its members. . .

    as a means to further personal interests. . .

    with flagrant disregard for the legal rights and interests of the public they serve (and that pays them). . .and the judicial integrity of their colleagues. . .

    The judicial branch as a whole will have an all-out war on its hands.

    Everyone will lose, but the judicial branch will lose most of all, because it has the most to lose. Namely—a massive budget, unfettered power and immunity, and no meaningful oversight.

    What were we all taught as children, when we were given privileges? You abuse it, you lose it.

    That is where this is all going.

  21. I would suggest that the Chief Justice and the Judicial Council think less in terms of “assessing the opposition” and more about cleaning up the branch as a California body. The Supremacy Clause in the Constitution explains that federal law always trumps state law, which means federal always wins if there is a conflict between the two. If there is no conflict then the state law will be used but if there is any question or conflict of the two reading as the same, then the federal rule would win. You cannot claim some illusion of absolute power as a state worker.

  22. San Francisco Whistle

    I suggest they launch the “cleaning up the branch” with several key resignations. There will be credibility to any efforts to remove the malignant corruption and runaway inaccountability while King George holds court.

  23. Judge Horan (or anyone on the bench):

    Do you know what the Judicial Council’s policy is regarding potential conflicts that members of the Council may have with past or present AOC employees? Are the Council members routinely asked to disclose any potential conflicts, to the Chief Justice, and to one another, as part of the governance model?

    Also, do you know if the AOC compiles a list of all pending litigation involving the Judicial Council and/or AOC, and makes the current list available to any Council member at any time he or she might want to request an updated list?

    Members of the Council – start doing your duty. If you do not, someone else will.

  24. hey, AOC watcher, why are YOU not keeping up with this and giving new bones for us to dawg? We miss you and this site is lacking without you. But I do love all of my fellow bloggers comments! we just need more meat on this bone!

    • JusticeCalifornia

      I agree. We need an update.

      I have lots of things to talk about– I just didn’t want to monopolize the conversation, and a lot of my stories are about bad apples (hereafter referred to as “the baddies”) in the trial courts, and how those baddies so often end up protected by top leadership and some of the higher courts. I guess I will tell a couple of stories, while we wait for a new official update.

  25. I also am trying to find the Government Code section, or whatever legal mechanism, established the AOC as a state agency. I can look it up, but does anyone know the citation? I did find this:

    GC 68507. The Secretary of the Judicial Council shall purchase and provide for the installation of the flag of the United States and the Bear Flag of California in all the courtrooms of the Supreme Court and the courts of appeal.

  26. Someone can correct me if I am wrong, but I can’t find any citation for the establishment of the Administrative Office of the Courts. The Council was established in 1926, and Prop. 220 amended the California constitution to allow for appointment of an Administrative Director of the Courts, to serve at the pleasure of the Judicial Council. Did the AOC then simply start adding itself as an agency to the Government Code, or to California rules of court, whenever it felt like giving itself powers? I thought every agency in the state has to have clearly established roles and responsibilities — I can’t even find the AOC in the California Code of Regulations.

  27. And again, correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I can tell, the AOC was established by a Rule of Court, with duties completely under the control of the Judicial Council.

    2010 California Rules of Court
    Rule 10.81. Administrative Office of the Courts

    (a) Establishment

    The Administrative Director of the Courts, under the supervision of the Chief Justice, employs, organizes, and directs a staff agency, known as the Administrative Office of the Courts.

    (Subd (a) amended effective August 14, 2009; previously amended effective January 1, 2007.)

    (b) Duties

    The Administrative Office of the Courts assists the council and its chair in carrying out their duties under the Constitution and laws of the state.

    (Subd (b) amended effective January 1, 2007.)

    Rule 10.81 amended effective August 14, 2009; adopted as rule 6.81 effective January 1, 1999; previously amended and renumbered effective January 1, 2007.

    • Judicial Observer

      Simplest way to think of it, the AOC is supposed to be the staff arm of the Judicial Council. It was created by the Judicial Council to assist the Council in carrying out such duties as the Council may have.

      Unfortunately, many on the Council have turned this on its head and act as if the Judicial Council was created to carry out the duties and policies the AOC either wants or imagines it has.

  28. Wendy Darling

    Published today, April 12th, in the Sacramento Bee and also posted on the Sacramento Bee website, by Robert Lewis, the latest on the brewing budget/funding battle over CCMS:

    California Court Officials, Judges Spar Over Costly Computer System. http://www.sacbee.com

  29. W.D.

    The AOC was not established as a staff agency (per Rules of Court) until 2009:

    AMENDMENTS TO THE CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT Adopted by the Judicial Council on August 14, 2009, effective on August 14, 2009.

    Rule 10.81. Administrative Office of the Courts
    (a) Establishment
    The Administrative Director of the Courts, under the supervision of the Chief Justice (added “Chief Justice” and struck out “Chair of the Judicial Council”), employs, organizes, and directs a staff agency, (added the word “agency”) known as the Administrative Office of the Courts.

    (Subd (a) amended effective August 14, 2009; previously amended effective January 1, 2007.)

    (b) Duties
    (* * * no change) The Administrative Office of the Courts assists the council and its chair in carrying out their duties under the Constitution and laws of the state.

    (c) Reporting
    (struck out all text) The Administrative Office of the Courts must annually submit to the Judicial Council a management report that describes its current activities and internal operations.

    Rule 10.81 amended effective August 14, 2009; adopted as rule 6.81 effective January 1, 1999; previously amended and renumbered effective January 1, 2007.

    For purposes of the Rules of Court, or California law for that matter, did the AOC only become a staff agency in 2009? Within published California law, was the AOC ever established officially as a state agency before 2009?

    And why was the power to supervise moved from the Chair of the Judicial Council to the Chief Justice? How or when does the Chief Justice supervise the Administrative Director and his actions – ???

    & does the Chief Justice’s supervision include keen awareness regarding the staff of approximately 900 people, whose duty is to assist the Council and its Chair?

    I am so tired of this “staff agency” and their games.

  30. Wendy Darling

    I can’t help but wonder if, prior to the Judicial Council’s so-called “adoption” of these amendments to the California Rules of Court, if any of the amendments were submitted for review and approval to the Office of Administrative Law in Sacramento, as is usually required of State agencies under California law.

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      I’m more curious about the language of prop 220 that created the position and authority – and the rule of court that changed whom is responsible. Was prop 220 a constitutional change and did the rule of the court usurp the constitutional change? Did 220 vest power in the judicial council and the rule of court vest power in the chief justice?

  31. I can only figure W.D. that there is not a good attorney on the AOC Management Team. If there was a good attorney, they would know California law.

    The A (amateur) team has hidden under the cloak of judicial branch for so long that they forget that in the justice system, thousands of people function under oaths every day in California courts and they OMG have to tell the truth (whether as attorney, sworn witness, or judge – most people know that if any of those people don’t tell the truth, there are serious consequences [fines and penalty citations, including criminal cites]).

    Does anyone have a citation to the Oath of Office that Judicial Council members must recite, when they are sworn in by Ronald M. George, the Chief Justice of the Sate of California? I thought those also have to be filed somewhere in this whacky state.

    I would assume the Oath has some good readings mentioned in it.

    (Hiring outside attorneys to do routine litigation is a red flag as large as Texas.)

    (Should the California Attorney General taking over all AOC litigation become a formal intra-branch arrangement and/or a new budget line item to save money for the State?)

    No mechanism here for footnotes – yet.

    • Obi-Wan Kenobi

      What is particularly red flaggish is hiring the Attorney General for some litigation (where a possible attorney general investigation is snuffed out like a bad cigar in favor of attorney-client privilege, two examples being Jacobs and AGS) whereas in other matters that would not possibly result in a criminal investigation you engage private law firms.

      Did the AOC intentionally tie the hands of the only entity that has any power to investigate?

  32. You mean deliberate obfuscation? I don’t know. I do know that the A.G. can petition to remove itself as counsel, at any time it feels like it. Even on plug and play MC-052, you can list “other” as a reason. “Vaya con Dios, amigos.”

  33. JusticeCalifornia

    I posted earlier about the whistleblower legislation, but it is awaiting moderation, probably because I put too many links in. I am sure the comment will be approved, but time is of the essence so here it is a different way:

    Check out http://info.sen.ca.gov,

    and click on legislation, and then go to AB 1749.

    If you are concerned about this issue, you need to write Assemblymembers Strickland and Lowenthal with support and /or comments, and make sure you attend the hearing if you can. It is presently scheduled for next Tuesday.

  34. Thanks, JC. It is an Assembly Judiciary Committee meeting on 4/20. This week there has been a union effort asking people to contact the committee members and urge them to support both AB1749 and AB2521 (Torrico). Just do it.

    http://www.assembly.ca.gov/acs/newcomframeset.asp?committee=15

    • JusticeCalifornia

      Thank you Delilah

      So should people try to attend the meeting if they can, or simply contact the members of the committee?

  35. These two bills need all of the support they can get. Write, call or attend the hearing to express your support. Together they’ll bring more accountability to the judiciary. And as someone said yesterday “sunshine is the greatest disinfectant….”

  36. JusticeCalifornia

    On April 23, 2010, the “Elkins Family Law Task Force”, another hand-picked Judicial Council committee largely made up of foxes guarding the henhouse, will present its report to the Judicial Council. By “foxes” , I mean family law judges, some of whom have been soundly criticized by court critics, and all of whom would naturally be taken aback — or angered– by criticism of family law judges. Yes, a few members of the public were also appointed, but not a single family court critic or reform advocate, or victim, or victim’s advocate was selected, although many highly qualified people applied.

    The report does not address one of the key concerns of members of the public (fathers, mothers, children, lawyers, court professionals, and advocates) who attended task force focus groups and/or came to SF from all over CA, to testify, on April 6, 2009, shoulder to shoulder, about what is happening in the family courts around the state. You don’t often see Father’s Rights advocates, and Mother’s Rights advocates, united. But on April 6, 2009, they, and many others, were united with respect to one major concern– and that is, that state laws and rules enacted for the protection of families and children often are not being followed by CA Family Court judges, mediators and court appointees. Great laws and procedures already exist, they said, but they are simply not being followed.

    Interestingly, that concern was not addressed, at all, by the Elkins Task Force in its draft report.

    But the report did include recommendation 13, on page 27, suggesting that CA Family Courts be allowed to sanction FAMILY LAWYERS and PRO PER FAMILY LITIGANTS (and 80% of litigants are pro pers) for violations of Judicial Council court rules. Now, we know that the current court rules are contained in a book about an inch thick, and they change all the time. Rule 5, which covers family law, spans 212 pages in the current softbound Deerings Family Code book, in about 10 point type. Many Family Court judges and court personnel and appointees violate CA Rules of Court all the time, and oftentimes it seems that Family Courts (and some CA high courts) take them far less seriously than litigants and lawyers. (Ask me for egregious examples and I will gladly provide them. I have lots of stories.) Further, in family law, the determination of whether or not some of the rules have been broken is a matter of opinion–in other words, “judicial discretion”.

    This proposed rule, coupled with the vast discretion family law judges enjoy, will give the judges a nasty tool to evade existing statutory family law fee/sanction provisions (Family Code 2030-2032, and 271) and CCP 128.7, and slap brutal retaliatory financial sanctions on pretty much anyone they want to, for “violations” of court rules the courts themselves don’t follow.

    Imagine having that weapon available to whack family law litigants (80% of whom are pro pers), and lawyers (some of whom help clients in particularly egregious cases on a pro bono or reduced fee basis), who are brave or stupid enough to cause a ruckus and complain that laws and rules are not being followed by judges and court appointees. The old “shoot the messenger” (or whistleblower) trick.

    Expect the Judicial Council to unanimously accept this report, amidst jokes and giggles.

  37. Just passing this along on AB2521:

    The Assembly Judiciary Committee just passed audit bill AB 2521 on a bipartisan vote. All the democrats and republicans that were in attendance supported it. The vote was 9-0.

    Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen. Let’s keep it up.

    • JusticeCalifornia

      Yes and I understand there is a nice Daily Journal Op Ed about it today too. Haven’t seen it, but heard about it.

  38. Quicker than a ray of light.

  39. WiseEmployee

    Below is the Daily Journal Op-Ed, as well as an Op-Ed that was in the California Progress Report.

    Published on California Progress Report (http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/site)
    ________________________________________
    AB 2521 (Torrico) Is Not The Complete Answer, But Its A Good Beginning
    Created 04/19/2010 – 7:16am
    By Judge J. Stephen Czuleger
    As a former Presiding Judge of the LA Superior Court and former member of the California Judicial Council, I have been able to closely follow the growth and development of the judicial branch in California over my past 22 years on the bench. Most of the expansion and transformation has been a positive thing. The people of California have been well served by the hard working bench officers of this state who strive every day to make sure that justice is available to everyone who uses our courts. It also goes without saying that the thousands of employees who labor in our courts professionally strive to assist our judges in the court’s important efforts. Our work as judges would be impossible without them.
    Growth entails costs. These costs are both financial as well as administrative in nature. The financial needs have been expanded as the judicial branch of government has enlarged. Some of the needs are critical to our mission. Others are more marginal in importance. Each need is entitled to a full accounting after all information is made available. In this way, all stakeholders are enlightened and the judiciary, like other governmental entities, is held accountable for its financial activities.
    However, as important as money and information may be, it is a well worn axiom that we in the judiciary cannot effectively do our jobs without public trust and confidence. This principle has been a hallmark of the efforts of the Judicial Council and the judiciary in the past and remains a touch point with all judicial efforts in communicating with the public and the Legislature about the importance of the judicial branch of government.
    We now find ourselves in a severe fiscal crisis in this state. Certainly all aspects of our state have been impacted, not just the judiciary. But it is the judiciary which must rely so firmly on that concept of public trust and confidence to appropriately do its job. That fact is indisputable. As such, the public, both those that regularly use the courts and those that do not, must know that the fiscal health of the judiciary is well. Not only does the judiciary need sufficient resources, but the public must know that those resources provided are used efficiently and appropriately. Fiscal health means more than just money, it means verifiable confidence.
    There is no magic formula or off-the-shelf software to guarantee that the judiciary always acts in a fiscally prudent way. There is, however, a proposal currently before the Legislature, which in my judgment moves us closer in that direction. Assembly Bill 2521 provides the mechanism for independent audits of the trial courts of this state and, most importantly, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). The AOC, after all, is responsible for much of the fiscal oversight of the judiciary. Much has been recently made of that oversight in the media.
    By calling upon the California State Controller to perform timely audits of both the trial courts and the AOC, the proposal, while not perfect, would establish a mechanism for the public to know that its judiciary is acting as good stewards of the limited resources given it. It encourages not only trust and confidence in the judiciary, if adopted, it would encourage good governance principles even at a time when the system is under extreme pressures.
    Adoption of this bill will not add resources to the branch, stop the layoffs of court employees, or alter plans for closing courtrooms in this state. It will, however, assure that those decisions are appropriate under the circumstances. It is a strong statement that in a time of incredible strain and crises, the judiciary stood up and recognized its responsibilities to the public. These efforts could only have positive results when the state one day comes out of our current crises and the public recognizes that it was the judiciary (and the Legislature) that stood tall and acted in a principled and effective manner on this important issue and at this critical time.
    The Legislature should look favorably upon this effort and on AB 2521. The people of California deserve no less. More information is always better than less. AB 2521 provides more information at a time it is clearly needed.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Judge J. Stephen Czuleger served as presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, the nation’s largest trial court system, for two years starting in January 2007. Before that, he was Assistant Presiding Judge for the court. His legal career, spanning more than 30 years, includes stints as 3 a U.S. District Court clerk, a U.S. Attorney, a private practice attorney, and a judge.

    APRIL 20, 2010 | PERSPECTIVE
    Daily Journal

    Reinstate Accountability To Our Courts: Pass Assembly Bill 2521
    By Kathleen Russell
    No part of our government is more integral to fairness and justice than our court system. That’s why the people who must abide by the laws of our state deserve to see the courts administered with model efficiency, accountability and transparency. It is especially important that as taxpayers and businesses suffer the lingering effects of a deep recession, they see their tax dollars being spent prudently.
    Everyone from business owners, to abused and neglected children, to victims of domestic violence count on our courts to be accessible and reliable.
    Funding shortfalls from the state budget have resulted in courts being closed due to the public and massive layoffs of hard-working courts staff who serve critical functions like court reporting and collecting payments and fines. That makes wait times longer for simple transactions and means crime victims wait longer to see justice. Yet at the same time, the Administrative Office of the Courts, the state agency that oversees court operations, has pursued a $2 billion computer system and given double-digit pay increases to its top staff, calling into question whether our courts are being administered with financial integrity. When a member of the public visits their local courthouse and finds a “closed” sign on the door, they deserve to know if courtroom closures could have been avoided. But a loophole in current law shields court financial information from outside scrutiny.
    The unintended consequences of a well-intended law known as the Trial Court Funding Act of 1997 have allowed our courts to escape the same kind of outside audits required of other public institutions, such as school districts and county and city governments, even as our courts should stand as shining examples of the accountability and transparency we expect of our government. The Trial Court Funding Act put local court administration under a larger state umbrella that lawmakers hoped would provide greater stability in funding and better services to the public, but it did not include some basic accountability measures such as independent audits. This lack of adequately independent financial oversight is a problem at both the state level, where no regular audits are required, and at the local level, where the audits are conducted only by the AOC itself.
    Coming before members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee today, Assembly Bill 2521 is common sense legislation that will ensure that court finances are transparent by requiring independent annual audits of county courts and the AOC.
    AB 2521 is a good government bill that will correct one of the flaws of the Trial Court Funding Act. The goal of this bill is simple – to apply the same transparency requirements that apply to school districts, cities and counties to trial courts in California.
    Failure to conduct independent audits has serious consequences for our system of justice. For example, a multi-million dollar error resulted in layoffs of San Mateo Superior Court employees, a situation which hurts workers and families and compromised access to our courts.
    A lack of transparency prevents our government agencies from operating efficiently and openly. No agency that runs on taxpayer dollars should be free from public scrutiny. Our judiciary exists to serve the people, and reinstating accountability to our court system will give taxpayers back the right to know whether state agencies are doing just that, or whether the courts are failing in their mandate to serve the public interest.
    Kathleen Russell is staff consultant of the Center for Judicial Excellence.