Category Archives: Judicial Wars

Judicial Wars: Judges Battle In Daily Journal Over CCMS

If you picked up a copy of the Daily Journal today and turned to page 7 to the Letters to the Editor section you would have seen a really interesting “fight” among three people over the true value of CCMS.

In the pro-CCMS corner there’s Judicial Council spokesperson Phillip R. Carrizosa who wrote the editor of the Daily Journal contesting some of the comments made by Judge Loren McMaster of Sacramento. In his letter Mr. Carrizosa trumpets the glory of CCMS and states that Judge McMaster had misled readers as the only court that had any problems with CCMS was Judge McMaster’s.

In the con-CCMS corner response Judge McMaster sent in a respone to Carrizosa stating that Mr. Carrizosa had it “backwards” when it came to relating what really happened in Sacramento when it was among the chosen to put CCMS through its paces.

As a counter to Judge McMaster’s assertion that CCMS is not working and that the AOC and Deloitte, the contractor handling its creation, are not taking input from the very people that will have to use the system, the Daily Journal also printed a letter from Judge Glen M. Reiser of Ventura who gives a detailed description of how the computer system works for him.

I’m going to post all three letters here which you can read after the jump for your analysis.

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Judicial Wars: ACJ Sends Out Letter About Recent Judicial Council Meeting

The following letter was sent out to the members of the ACJ.  Included in the letter is a summary of what occurred at the Judicial Council’s January 21st meeting, along with transcribed portions of the meeting wherein Judge Lampe was interrupted in the middle of his presentation and addressed as “Mr. Lampe” by Justice George.

I was so inspired by Justice George’s lack of decorum that from hereon out, in the AOC Watcher blog Justice George will now be referred to as “Mr. George” or “Mr G” for short.

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Judicial Wars: Some Justices Decline Contributing to AOC’s Voluntary Salary Waiver

Following in the steps of some superior court judges who declined to participate in the AOC’s Voluntary Salary Waiver program (VSW), in which judges volunteered to donate a portion of their salary in solidarity with court staff who were enduring mandatory furloughs, a group of state justices have chosen instead to donate their contributions not to the AOC but to their own courts.  Still others have decided to bypass the court system altogether and have donated to charity like Justice Terry O’Rourke who donated his share to a library in his county.

An article in the Daily Journal details Justice O’Rourke’s contribution and his reasons why he decided not to have it go to the AOC.

Fourth District Justice Terry O’Rourke says he gave $7,500 to the UC-San Diego library, which had its budget slashed this year. “I do not believe it possible to partially waive a constitutional right,” he explained by e-mail, “so I chose another option. Since I believe the AOC is overstaffed and overpaid, I donated a portion of my salary to a part of the state government that will not waste my money.”

Ouch! Tell us how you really feel Justice O’Rourke.

The other justices mentioned or quoted in the article had their own reasons for not participating in the VSW program. One of the main ones had to do with the justices not wanting to waive any protections guaranteed them under Article III, Section 4 which deals with reduction in judges’ salaries during their term.

But aside from Justice O’Rourke, I found Justice James McIntyre’s comment quite colorful as it had me thinking of Sinatra when I read his quote.

Justice James McIntyre of the Fourth District in San Diego explained his decision this way: “As in many things that come down from on high, you sort of get the idea this is what they want you to
do. So I chose to do it my own way.”

Spoken like a true independent judicial officer.

Judicial Wars: Alliance of California Judges Sees “Need for Oversight of AOC”

Judge Charles Horan of Los Angeles wrote a piece on behalf of the Alliance of California Judges (ACJ) titled “Need for Oversight of AOC Is More Apparent Than Ever.” The piece was published in the Metropolitan-News Enterprise today. In the piece Judge Horan writes that the latest revelations regarding unlicensed contractors and a lack of interest in the Judicial Council to supervise its bureaucratic arm, the Administrative Office of the Courts, is proof that the AOC needs oversight.

From a trial judge’s perspective, local control of court operations and decisions regarding access is why we are elected in contested countywide elections. It is certainly not to decide cases based upon some regional interpretation of statute. To have important decisions about court access made by judges or staff who are not locally elected, or even aware of the problems in any particular county, is contrary to the basic precepts of our constitution and form of government. To dissent from such an approach is not to weaken the branch, or cast the judiciary in a bad light, but I believe to ultimately strengthen it.

Local control is necessary, but with every moment it becomes more clear that we continue to move farther and farther from this approach. Judges need to be educated as to the policy embodied in Government Code Sec. 77001, which policy is often ignored or forgotten by those on the Judicial Council and within the Administrative Office of the Courts. In fact, draft legislation recently emanated from the AOC, without the apparent knowledge of the Council, which would have essentially gutted the section. A copy of this draft accompanies this article.

More alarming, the Council has now publicly stated that which we feared all along:

They have little apparent interest in overseeing the AOC, and believe they have no ability to do so.

A senior member of the Council for 12 or more years pointed out at the Dec. 15 Council meeting that the Council only meets six times a year, has voluntary membership, and cannot and will not increase their oversight. They prefer to set policy and have the AOC do whatever they see fit to implement the policy. Oversight is minimal at best.

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Judicial Wars: Did AOC Attempt to “Sell” an Approach

Somebody in the California Administrative Office of the Courts’ (AOC) propaganda PR department must not have gotten the memo on staying on topic.  Even if staying on topic means contradicting something a person in your own department admits is true.

The Metropolitan News Enterprise published an article by  Kenneth Ofgang in which he detailed how the AOC was countering one of the main items of the  Alliance of California Judges’ (ACJ) platform which they listed in a letter sent out last Friday.  And that would be the ACJ’s effort to push the Judicial Council to “reaffirm the rights of the local trial courts by putting into law the Trial Court Bill of Rights which the Judicial Council failed to adopt.”

The AOC’s response came from none other than the AOC’s Salesman in Chief Deputy Director Ron Overholt.

“The Trial Court Funding Act recognizes that the trial courts have the authority to manage themselves, including discretion over their budget decisions. The drafting of this historic act took place over a series of months and involved stakeholders from the courts and state and county governments. The underlying premise of those discussions was local control by each trial court within the budget and fiscal management parameters established by the Judicial Council.”

Now here’s where the story takes an interesting turn.  Judge David Lampe of the Kern Superior Court wrote the AOC in November asking for a copy of the “Trial Courts Bill of Financial Management Rights.”  According to the article an attorney for the AOC by the name of William L. Kasley replied to Judge Lampe’s request by telling him that

“the issue was adequately addressed by the Judicial Council Trial Court Financial Policies and Procedures Manual, and by a rules of court that Kasley said “provides the presiding judge with broad authority to manage the court’s budget.”

And that would seem to be the end of that as far as the AOC was concerned.  Except for one thing.  Somebody at the AOC actually agreed with Judge Lampe and actually sent out an email saying so within the AOC.  And you know the curse with emails.  They can be forwarded.  Which is what somebody did.

Someone forwarded to the Metropolian News-Enterprise an email written by Philip Carrizosa, who happens to be an AOC spokesperson.  Not only does  Carrizosa state his support of Judge Lampe’s position but he also says that the statement sent out by the AOC attorney Kasley was pointless because it doesn’t answer the issues addressed by Judge Lampe.

“On this point, I think the Alliance is correct—The Legislature did ask the Judicial Council to draft a Trial Court Bill of Financial Management Rights and the council never did that. The finance policy quoted [by Kasley] specifies nothing about those rights. [Bold in original.]

In addition to pointing out the meaninglessness of referring to a policy that doesn’t apply, Carrizosa also says something in his email that I think says a lot about the AOC and its approach to any and ALL requests and criticisms.  Referring to the AOC’s planned approach of countering the ACJ’S position, Carrizosa says:

“All we can do is emphasize that the finance policy recognizes that each trial court is responsible for managing its own operations.

“Good luck in selling this approach to Ken.”

Got that AOC Watcher readers?  “Good luck in selling this approach to Ken.” And who is Ken you ask?  Well, I think that would be Kenneth Ofgang, the reporter who wrote this.  In other words, one of the AOC’s PR department minions agress with the ACJ and then wishes his fellow spin doctors luck in trying to sell the AOC’s little fairytale instead of admitting that the ACJ had a point and were correct.  But that would mean that the AOC would have to admit they were wrong in their response.  And we all know that one has a better chance of seeing unicorns rather than the AOC conceding anything in an opponent’s favor.

When he was contacted about the emails, by I presume Mr. Ofgang, Mr. Carrizosa:

“explained last night that the e-mail should not have been forwarded to the MetNews because it represents his ‘personal opinion,’ which is ‘entirely irrelevant.’

Umm…your point of view in which you agree with the other side is “entirely irrelevant.”  Wow.  Seems someone’s been drinking too much of the Kool Aid.

You can read the whole article here and clicking on the article titled “AOC Official Disputes Claim Local Courts Lack Control of Finances”

Judicial Wars: Alliance of California Judges Sends Letter to California Judges

The Alliance of California Judges (ACJ) stepped up its efforts to recruit more judges to its cause by sending out a letter urging judges to join them. In the letter the new judges association lists off all of the reasons why they believe the formation of the group became necessary among which include the following:

We believe that the Legislature should reaffirm the rights of the local trial courts by putting into law the Trial Court Bill of Rights which the Judicial Council failed to adopt.

We also believe that the Legislature should establish a separate Trial Court Advisory Group, consisting of trial judges elected by judges from the 58 county trial courts, with provisions to balance the interests of smaller and larger courts, which could advise the Judicial Council, provide oversight to the AOC, and report upon the judicial budget and judicial affairs to the public, the Legislature, the Governor, and the Judicial Council itself. This group would also serve the original purposes of the Trial Court Budget Commission in the original 1998 state court funding legislation. These judges would volunteer, and would have independent staff assistance provided by funds already allocated to the AOC.

Finally, the Alliance believes that the Judicial Council should encourage the Legislature to place the employees of the AOC under the existing protections of the whistle blower statutes, to ensure that employees feel free to bring their concerns about operations of the AOC to public light.

The letter says that a website for the group will go live some time next week. I wish the ACJ the best and it is my sincerest hope that more judges will take up the association’s cause. I’m posting the letter for AOCW readers which you can read after the jump.

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Judicial Wars: Judge Huffman’s Response to CJA Letter

Judge Richard Huffman issued a letter to the members of the Judicial Council yesterday in which he continued to refute the position of the California Judges Association that the JC should take more of an oversight role in the AOC. As I detailed in my earlier post on the CJA’s letter, that suggestion was so unwelcome to Judge Huffman it inspired him to say

“I’ll be damned if I’m of a mood to support some major overhaul of the Judicial Council’s governance policy because of some newspaper article that caused some judges to get angry and the CJA to react.”

In his letter Judge Huffman continued to assert his position that the Judicial Council should not heed the CJA’s or anyone else’s request for more AOC oversight.  In fact, Judge Huffman said that the policies in place were more than enough to deal with oversight of the AOC.

The council has a long-established governance policy regarding oversight of the AOC. That policy was revised in 2008 and you can also access that on the California Courts Web site. After significant debate at this week’s meeting, the council declined to change its policies and specifically declined to micromanage each salary adjustment for an AOC staff member or manager. The council was told that elected judges should oversee all salary issues for the AOC, thus the council should change its policies. We declined to do so because oversight of AOC compensation is vested in the Chief Justice, who is elected, and the council does not believe it can or should attempt to supervise the Chief Justice. At the end of the debate the council, with one dissenting vote and one abstention, expressed its confidence in the manner in which the salary adjustments were made and in the process by which the Chief Justice oversees the compensation practices of the AOC as well as those of the appellate courts.

Ummm…so I guess what Judge Huffman is saying is that even if the JC wanted to deal with the issue of AOC compensation, they couldn’t because only the Chief Justice had the power to deal with that issue.  Is it just me or did Judge Huffman basically point his finger to the Chief?  I’m just saying.

The one passage I found difficult to read without laughing is the one Judge Huffman wrote in closing his letter.

A summary of the recent council meeting is being prepared by the internal committee chairs of the council and we will distribute it shortly. We are continuing to work to improve our process of providing information to the courts regarding the issues before the council and the actions it takes. There will likely never be 100 percent agreement among our diverse membership, nor should we ever expect that. What we do hope to promote is debate that is based on the most accurate information available. We will not always succeed to everyone’s satisfaction, but hopefully through a process of discussion we will continue to improve the process.

Uh-huh.  A “process of discussion” that more than likely involves people bringing suggestions and the Judicial Council ignoring them.  There’s a process of discussion you can believe in.

You can read the letter in its entirety after the jump.

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Judicial Wars: A Revolt in the Council?

After all the attention the AOC has gotten these past few months, nobody attending the Judicial Council’s meeting on the 15th expected it to be anything but boring. And the Council did not disappoint when Judge Michael Vicencia, current president of the California Judges Association and a LA Superior Court judge, announced that the CJA was urging the Council to take more responsibility and oversight of the AOC, especially in light of media coverage of the raises the AOC gave to staff members in one of the worst fiscal years the California judicial system has ever faced.

As I’ve posted before, in his letter Judge Vicencia stated that, “As the elected members of the Judicial Branch, judges must take greater oversight of the bureaucracy of the branch. Judges must demonstrate their ability to be good stewards of the people’s money.” Needless to say Judge Vicencia’s pleas for greater accountability were as welcome to the majority of the Judicial Council members as the orphan Oliver was welcome by the board of the workhouse when he asked for more food.

Judge Richard Huffman was so peeved by Judge Vicencia’s request he interrupted Justice George midsentence so that he could say his piece and lay into Judge Vicencia and the CJA for their position. He also lit into the media by saying:

“I’ll be damned if I’m of a mood to support some major overhaul of the Judicial Council’s governance policy because of some newspaper article that caused some judges to get angry and the CJA to react.”

Judge Huffman’s position was backed by a majority of his fellow Judicial Council members who showed their knack for staying the course by supporting the AOC as Cheryl Miller for the Daily Recorder reports.

Vicencia called on the council to take control of the AOC’s salary scales and top managers’ compensation packages.

“My suggestion was that instead of just leaving that up to the chief justice, that should be debated in the Judicial Council,” Vicencia said after the meeting. “Elected judges should be the ones to make those decisions.”

But his proposal was immediately shot down by other council members who equated the idea to micromanaging. Chief Justice Ronald George and others blamed the media for spreading “disinformation” about the AOC’s actions and treating the agency “like a pinata.”

In slapping down Vicencia’s proposal, the council, on a majority voice vote, ultimately adopted a hastily drafted resolution expressing its support for the AOC’s personnel compensation policies.

Ah, yes. When all else fails. Blame the messenger. How unrefreshingly typical of the Judicial Council. I don’t know why I should expect any different.

But I must commend Judge Vicencia and the CJA for having the nerve to stand up to the JC and the AOC. After facing the ire of the Judicial Council members Judge Vicencia was quoted in the article as saying “My fear is that judges and the public are going to quickly lose confidence in the branch’s ability to manage its finances.” I really hate to break it to you, Judge, but any confidence people had in the judicial branch was lost AGES ago. Still, as they say in recovery, acknowledging you have a problem is the first step.

Sacramento Bee Editorial: “Tipping the scales of the indefensible”

A new report hinting at profligate spending by the Administrative Office of the Courts has set off more criticism from a small but vocal band of judges who think the state court bureaucracy has become too bloated and powerful.

The Daily Journal reported this week that the Administrative Office of the Courts promoted nearly 80 employees and raised pay by as much as 31 percent for at least one of its employees last fiscal year.

The Journal, California’s leading legal affairs newspaper, analyzed pay records from the State Controller’s Office. It found that, despite the fiscal emergency facing state courts, payroll costs at the 1,000-employee AOC grew 6 percent in the last fiscal year, by $4.2 million.

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Judicial Wars: The Battle for Court Construction Funds

While the battle over the billions of dollars to be spent on CCMS quiets down before the next salvo, the battle over funds for court construction is just beginning to heat up.  On one side we have the AOC and its supporters who are preparing to fight hard to prevent anybody from touching the funds in the court construction fund.  On the other side are interest groups representing court staff and in particular Judge Charles McCoy of Los Angeles County, who want a review of the monies in the court construction funds and a possible diversion of those funds back to trial court funding.  There is no common ground between these two opposing parties.  The AOC and its supporters view the court construction funds as off-limits.  The opposition sees the funds as part of a possible overall solution to preventing court closures, furloughs, and decreased services to the public.

AOC Supporters Launch Initial Attack

The first group to lead the attack on the AOC’s behalf is the Bench-Bar Coalition.  An information sheet put out by the AOC describes the Bench-Bar Coalition as a group formed in 1993 comprised mostly of “judges and the presidents, past presidents, presidents-elect, executive directors, or other person(s) designated by the president, of a state, local, minority or specialty bar association; legal services organization; or statewide organization dedicated to improving the justice system.” In a conference call with media last week the group voiced their opposition to diversion of any court construction funds.  In a piece printed in the online edition of the Metropolitan-News Enterprise, a spokesperson for the Bench-Bar Coalition told the online journal that, “what the coalition is committed to doing and making sure of is that the Legislature understands the need for adequate funding for the courts and to ensure that the courts’ badly-needed infrastructure needs are protected as well.”

In order to prepare to defend the court construction funds the Bench-Bar Coalition developed a memo laying out to its members how it should address any questions about the court construction funds and how to phrase the argument in the group’s favor. I happened to get a copy of the memo and make no mistake about it.  Although the general tone of the talking points is to persuade the Legislature that court funding it its entirety should be funded, the main objective of the group is that no monies whatsoever should be diverted from the court construction fund.

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