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?