Category Archives: Court Budgets

Judicial Council Pulls Plug on CCMS…My Work Here Is Done

In a stunning turnabout from the position that the Judicial Council has regularly taken regarding CCMS, today the judicial members of the Judicial Council voted to halt implementation of the much maligned and criticized CCMS software program.

From the Courthouse News Service:

Ultimately, the council found the courts as a whole could no longer afford to support the project and decided to allocate $8.6 million to shelve the Court Case Management system and salvage any useful technology from it, including the ability for lawyers to file documents online.

In other words, the JC is mothballing the project and they’re suggesting that courts pick through the scrapheap to see if anything worthwhile can be salvaged from it. Oh my how the mighty have fallen.

But I come here today not to bury CCMS, and certainly not to praise it, but to remind everyone that CCMS cost California almost $500 million in the middle of the Great Recession with county courts shutting down courtrooms and courthouses, and layoffs sweeping the land. Is it any wonder that the JC finally got a clue? Even if it was two and a half years later?

I tip my hat to the original followers of Thetis from the AOC who let me know what was going on with CCMS back in 2009. And I salute the Alliance of California Judges for leading the fight against CCMS. And what can I say about Judicial Council Watcher? Those folks took an idea and made it better. While I got stopped blogging due to life commitments, they soldiered on creating a website that I encourage all to visit.

And as for me, although I know there are many more court-related issues that people are still waging battles over, (I’m looking at you AB1208) I am officially pulling the plug on this great venture I started almost three years ago. I wish everyone the best of luck and again, I encourage everyone to visit the Judicial Council Watcher.

Maybe I’ll see you around there in the comments section.  😉

Assembly Committee to AOC: More Spending Information Needed

An Assembly oversight committee wants more information on how much money the state agency overseeing California’s judicial branch is spending on maintenance and upkeep of court buildings.

The request came during Wednesday’s hearing of the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review. It was the committee’s second hearing on the Administrative Office of the Courts, or AOC, in the past 10 months and is another sign of the increasing scrutiny the Legislature is placing on judicial branch spending during tough budget times.

“The Legislature has the constitutional requirement to fund the other two branches of government – that’s our job,” said Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate. “This is a time for every branch of government to clamp down on costs.”

Click here to continue reading.

San Francisco Superior Court Lays Off Layoff Notices

San Francisco Superior Court employees got a bit of good news late this afternoon when current CEO Claire Williams sent out an email announcing that layoffs would not be happening. In fact, my followers of Themis in SF Superior tell me that the court planned on beginning on passing out layoff notices beginning tomorrow.

Here’s a bit from the email that Ms. Williams sent out.

Last week we received positive news on two fronts in Sacramento. On Friday Governor Schwarzenegger announced his revised budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The governor’s budget restored $100 million in state funding for the judicial branch. The other new budget information we have is that the AOC is close to wrapping up negotiations with key state lawmakers on a revenue package that would deliver $230 million to the judicial branch. Between the governor’s revised budget and the new judicial branch funding package from the legislature, we have enough confidence now in the proposals that leads us to the decision not to issue layoff notices as planned this week.

While it is true that the uncertainty over the ultimate outcome of these solutions remains, we are proceeding with the benefit of the best information available to us from the AOC. It is essential over the subsequent weeks that judicial branch leaders continue to work with the governor, state lawmakers, justice partners and other stakeholders to secure the passage of these funding solutions for the courts.

Governor’s Budget Is In, and the Fight Begins

The Governator released his May revised budget on Friday and he seems to have given the courts a wee bit more than they asked for.  His budget calls for $3.43 billion for the courts.  And though it may seem like that may answer everyone’s prayers, it doesn’t really.  In fact all sides with an invested interest in how that money gets allocated have begun the fight with one of the main battlegrounds being the multi-billion court software program.  As the Courthouse News Service tells it, both sides are fighting hard to get their viewpoints out in front to convince people how their respective sides are in the right, with their opposition in the wrong.

From the Courthouse News Service:

On the other side of the issue, some judges have gone to the legislature to sell the new computer system with a video presentation.

Judge Glen Reiser of Ventura County Superior Court, a long time advocate of the centralized computer sytem, met with members of the legislature last month to answer questions about the system called Court Case Management System. Reiser said that after presenting the video to legislators, “I got the impression that they were hugely receptive.”

Countering that position, trial judges in Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento argue that the benefits of the centralized computer system are outweighed by its $1.3 billion cost. One judge said the courts could have their own space shuttle for that kind of money.

Reiser answered that point by saying the new system will ultimately “save the courts tens of millions of dollars.”

“Change is threatening to some people,” Reiser added. “I love my colleagues to death, but the reason some people become judges is because they love tradition. Anytime you introduce new technology, there is going to be some push back. You have to look at the age of the judge and where they are on the technology curve.”

San Diego Superior Court Judge Runston Maino answered back, saying it is not the technology he opposes, rather it is the projected cost.

“Judges routinely ask whether the benefits of a certain choice are outweighed by the costs,” he said. “In the case of the case management system, the answer is the very slender benefits do not outweigh the costs. The projected cost of the system is $1.3 billion — an amount that is nearly sufficient for the Administrative Office of the Courts to purchase its own space shuttle.”

Well, it may be true that the AOC could have spent that $1.3 billion to “purchase its own space shuttle” as Judge Maino so eloquently puts it. But could we even count on the AOC to know how to launch it? Or would they need to spend another $1.3 billion on software that “might” do that?

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?

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.

Sinking Economy Drags Courts Down with It

From the Contra Costa Times.

From the outside, the local courthouse may bring to mind images of “Law and Order” and “Perry Mason” – television dramas in which the participants generally behave with at least a modicum of decorum.

But in real life, all hell is breaking loose in Los Angeles County’s courtrooms.

Amid the flagging economy, judges have noticed a rise in shouting, brawls and other courtroom disturbances, according to the Superior Court’s 2010 annual report.

Click here to read more.

Layoffs at Contra Costa Superior Court

MARTINEZ — Expect cases to move more slowly through Contra Costa County Superior Court as a result of layoff notices sent out to 16 court workers this week.

The layoff move — the first targeting the court’s clerical workers — is the latest action by the state-funded Contra Costa County court to try to manage a $7.4 million budget deficit. The cuts make it impossible for the court to sustain current service levels, according to court spokeswoman Mimi Lyster.

“We expect further delays in processing and adjudicating cases,” Lyster said.

The court’s budget for 2009-10 is $68 million after state fiscal problems forced $7.4 million in cuts. The court did all it could to avoid laying off staff members, including using $4 million of its $8.5 million reserve fund, Lyster said. Over the past 18 months, the court has laid off four executives in administration and 39 temporary employees, and eliminated nine management and 11 staff positions left vacant by attrition. Managers have forgone pay increases, members of two unions will be paying more for their benefits, and workers are invited to volunteer for furlough days.

The remaining deficit stood at $1.9 million when 16 workers received notice Monday that their last day will be Feb. 25.

Click here to continue reading.

“On The Money” Profile on the AOC Airs

Sacramento CBS affiliate KOVR 13 aired their piece on the AOC last night. If you’d like to see the piece yourself, you can view it by clicking here. And don’t forget that you might also want to tune into radio station KHTK Sports 1140 this afternoon beginning at 2:00 p.m. where they will be continuing a discussion started by the “On the Money” piece.  You can listen to the radio broadcast live online at their website.

Screenshot of Ron Overholt who sang the virtues of the AOC’s $1 billion CCMS software program.

On The Money: Court Controversy

California is so deep in debt that courthouses are closed one day a month. Many judges have taken voluntary pay cuts, but not everyone apparently, is feeling the pain.

Turns out, dozens of people in the court system received raises over the last two years.

In court, a growing number of judges are in open revolt.” To pass out raises like this in this climate, I think is just outrageous,” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster told CBS13 in an exclusive interview.

McMaster is critical of the Administrative Office of the Courts – the AOC – which gave out pay raises of 3% and higher to roughly 80 staffers, many of them already making six figure salaries.

Click here to read more and to view video.

Justice George Sends New Year’s Letter to Judges

Justice George started the New Year by sending out a letter reminding his judicial colleagues of how the evil of court closures was a necessary evil. In the letter he defended the Judicial Council’s decision to close the courts once a month.

Our action in closing the courts for four days in 2009 reflects the judicial branch’s recognition of the economic downturn that has affected all Californians in both the public and the private sectors. As inconvenient as these court closures have been to the public, to the bar, to our employees, and to all of us, they were a rational response, among the available alternatives, to the budget reductions in the current fiscal year, and have allowed some courts to avoid or minimize the layoffs that might otherwise have been necessary. AOC staff are preparing a report on the impact of the closures that will be presented at a special session of the Judicial Council on January 21.

He also discussed how the Voluntary Salary Waiver program, a program in which judicial officers gave up a portion of their salaries to honor the furloughs suffered by court employees, had become “an example for all of state government during the fiscal crisis.

During my meeting with the Governor just two weeks ago, he expressed his admiration for judges who are participating in the voluntarily (sic) salary waiver program or otherwise donating a portion of their salaries to assist in funding trial and appellate court operations. Through your personal sacrifices, you have set an example for all of state government.

No mention was made of how some judges opted not to participate in the VSW program and instead donated a share of their salary contributions to outside charities or creating funds of their own within their own counties to assist county court employees.

You can read the justice’s entire letter by clicking here.