JC Appoints Ronald Overholt to Replace William Vickrey

During last Friday’s meeting in San Fracisco, the Judicial Council chose Ronald G. Overholt, currently Chief Deputy Director of the Courts, to be the interim successor to William C. Vickrey who is stepping down from his post as

In a press release issued by the AOC, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye had this to say about Ron’s appointment:

“With this appointment, the Judicial Council is ensuring an integrated transition of leadership at the Administrative Office of the Courts and the continuity of excellence in the administration of statewide courts.”

Hmm..I think there are a lot of people out there who would beg to differ, Chief. Instead of “continuity of excellence” some would argue it’s a continuity of the same old song and dance of appointing diehard bureaucrats who continue to push a reality that has nothing to do with what is going on in California’s courts.

Judge David Lampe of the Alliance of California Judges had this to say about the appointment:

Kern Superior Court Judge David Lampe, serving as a spokesperson for the Alliance of California Judges yesterday expressed some concern that Overholt “has been closely tied to AOC policies in the past,” but emphasized that the group’s criticisms of existing branch management dealt with “structural issues,” and “has nothing to do with personalities or individuals.”

Lampe predicted that “whoever is ultimately chosen as the new director will undoubtedly be required to oversee a significant dismantling of the Administrative Office of the Courts,” and is “going to have to be dealing with changes,” such as the direct funding of trial courts by the Legislature proposed in AB 1208.

Well, all I can say is, Ron, you’re going to be in for an incredible term. And I believe you should heed the advice given by the lady below.

Court News Roundup and Open Thread

All eyes have been on San Francisco but let’s not forget San Joaquin County.

“San Joaquin County is the number one most consistently underfunded court system by the state,” said Judge Roger Ross.

“We’ve been scraping by for years with what we have and we’re just now down to the point where nothing is left but to close courtrooms.”

And it seems Napa County isn’t immune either.

“Unfortunately, these latest severe budget cuts will most likely result in the delays and lower level of service that we have worked so hard to avoid,” said Diane Price, presiding judge for the Superior Court of Napa County.

“The adage that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is very true and we will continue to take all reasonable steps possible to minimize the impact on our community’s access to justice services,” she said before the vote. “We understand that the court must function within the reality of the current economic climate. However, while it is too soon to know the specifics, there will certainly be negative consequences to our local justice system.”

KQED Forum host Dave Iverson looks at the negative result of the legislature’s move to slash the judicial budgets with guests Justice Cantil-Sakauye, Santa Clara Judge Brian Walsh, professor of law Gerald Uelmen,
Mary Ann Gilliard of Sacramento County Superior Court and director of the Alliance of California Judges and Scott Graham, editor-in-chief of The Recorder.

And the LA Times reports on the Judicial Council’s recent meeting.

The Judicial Council, the court’s governing body, which consists primarily of judges and court officials appointed by the chief justice, approved cuts of $350 million from a statewide court budget of $1.5 billion. Council members listened without comment while a parade of judges and court employees pleaded for more money and warned that democracy itself was in danger.

Interview with Judge Katherine Feinstein

“San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein speaks with Belva Davis about the fiscal crisis in the courts as the system faces $350 million in budget cuts and prepares for deep cuts to staff and services.”

The Personal and Financial Impact of Layoffs and Closure of Courtrooms

Ken Garcia of the San Francisco Examiner writes about both the financial and personal impact of the San Francisco Superior Court laying of hundreds of employees and shuttering courtrooms.

The personal:

“This building is in quite a state of distress,” said Patty Dowling, a court reporter for 28 years at the Hall of Justice who was one of the lucky ones to escape a pink slip. “Most of us spend their entire careers in the courthouse and we all know each other, so you can imagine why it’s been so traumatic.”

The financial:

Now that San Francisco has cut 200 judicial jobs, perhaps the AOC would be kind enough to offer some of them employment helping to close the black hole otherwise known as the California Court Case Management System, into which more than $1 billion in tax dollars have been dumped over the years, with almost nothing to show for it.

You can read the entire article here.

San Francisco Presiding Judge Feinstein Issues Passionate Statement before JC

As I sat listening to the proceedings during the Judicial Council’s meeting last Friday, I eagerly awaited to hear from the Honorable Katherine Feinstein. Why is that? Well, she is currently the presiding judge of the San Francisco Superior Court, (SFSC) and unless you’ve been on Mars, in a cave, under a rock, asleep, you know that the SFSC is facing a disaster that is almost unprecedented in California judicial history.

Judge Katherine Feinstein, left, speaks next to Court Executive Officer Michael Yuen at a news conference in San Francisco, Monday, July 18, 2011.  (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Thanks to the California legislature’s slashing of the judiciary’s budget, and the tone-deaf response by the AOC and Judicial Council to the reduction in trial court funding, SFSC issued layoff notices to 200 employees resulting in a 40% reduction of court staff and the closure of 25 courtrooms in the civil court division.

Judge Feinstein has been on a whirlwind press tour appearing on local and national television and as well as print media trying to draw attention to the state of affairs in the City by the Bay.

The AOC tried to deflect any negative attention to its spending habits by releasing an audit claiming that SFSC has been mismanaging its budget. (Am I the only one that sees the irony in the AOC accusing a trial court of mismanaging its budget? Anyone? Anyone?)

So when Judge Feinstein took the microphone to speak before the JC, I took a deep breath and wondered whether she’d tell them what was really on her mind. She did that and a whole lot more. In her speech Judge Feinstein was brutally honest calling out the AOC for giving the appearance that it lacked interest in San Francisco’s crisis, and their continued funding of questionable projects such as CCMS.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from her statement:

“…I remain stunned that neither I, nor our Court Executive Officer, received a single phone call from anyone in the Administrative Office of the Courts – the entity that is supposed to provide services and support to the trial courts.”

“…the fact that the AOC ever proposed spending $26 million on a single courtroom in a county with two Judges, five staff and a total county population of 1,175 people, and likewise spending $52 million on three courtrooms in a county with two Judges and 17 staff members is, to my mind, absurd.”

“CCMS may have been a great idea when ideas were grand and money was plentiful. Today, it is clearly overdesigned, over budget, and overdue.”

“…don’t force the rest of us to abandon basic access to justice in favor of feeding this technology beast with trial court trust funds.”

You can read the entirety of Judge Feinstein’s statement below.

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Judicial Council Watcher: While I Was Sleeping…

When I was contemplating relaunching the AOC Watcher blog I was pleased as punch to discover that another blog had taken up the torch (after I unceremoniously dropped it) of focusing on the AOC. The Judicial Council Watcher is that blog and they’ve done a fantastic job of updating readers on the latest news and rumors from deep within AOC headquarters. Also affectionately known as the AOC Death Star.

I tip my hat to those ladies and gentlemen of the Judicial Council Watcher and commend them on a job well done.

Recap of Judicial Council’s July 22nd Meeting

A lot of people were holding out hope that the Judicial Council would heed the pleas and cries for help from trials courts suffering from a lack of staffing, reduced public hours, and not to mention depleted funds. Many, led by members of the Alliance of California Judges, continued to call for the shutdown of CCMS, a reassessment of the building of new courthouses, and deeper cuts to the AOC’s own budget.

The expression on Justice Tani’s face pretty much says it all.
You little people with your petty concerns BORE me.

Alas, all was for naught as the Judicial Council ignored the pleas of many judges and court staff. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

California judicial leaders voted Friday to pass along most of a $350 million state funding reduction to the courts, despite a plea from San Francisco’s chief judge and others to cushion the blow to trial courts by making deeper cuts in statewide administration.

Meeting in San Francisco, the Judicial Council, which allocates funds to the courts, unanimously approved reductions that are slightly less severe for Superior Courts in the 58 counties than for the rest of the judicial branch. Budget reductions for trial courts for 2011-12 will be 6.8 percent, compared with 9.7 percent for the state Supreme Court and appellate courts and 12 percent for administrative agencies.

To sum it up, the Judicial Council is continuing a tradition started by King Justice George of ignoring the needs of trial courts and the people they serve, while funding vanity projects that promote the falsehood that the AOC is needed in order to run the courts in California.

I had hoped that when Justice Tani became justice that things might change for the better. Or at least change to give the appearance that things would be fairer. But as I said in my previous post, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Return of the AOC Watcher

So we meet again dear readers.  It’s been quite some time since last we spoke. I’m sure many of you AOC Watcher fans have been wondering just where I’ve been. Well, all will be explained with just one phrase: Life. It happens. Although I’m sure some thought that I had probably been scared off by the AOC’s stormtroopers, the truth is much simpler and a whole lot less interesting. I got swamped with life.

Now, however, my life has quieted down just a wee bit to the point where I thought I could start blogging again. And if you really want to know why I’m even bothering starting up the blog since it’s been almost a year since last I wrote, the truth is, I feel inspired to start writing again because of what I’ve seen during my time off.

AOC stormtroopers react to California’s judicial crisis.

A lot has changed in the past year. Some of the changes have been positive and encouraging. The circle of people who are disillusioned with the AOC and the Judicial Council has grown exponentially. Nothing the AOC says is taken as gospel. More and more judicial officers are adding their voices against the AOC and have joined the Alliance of California Judges Association. Legislators now see the AOC for the bloated and byzantine bureaucracy of bloated buffoons that it is and are now willing to question it. These are just some of the positive things I’ve seen this past year.

But all the positive changes can’t make up for the negative and discouraging things that I’ve seen that only give weight to that old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The AOC’s continued mismanagement and misappropriation outright thievery of court funds serves as an inspiration for banana republics everywhere. The AOC and the Judicial Council continue to support the infamous CCMS program that has swallowed $500 million of Californian’s hard earned monies with nothing to show for it. And nobody knows for sure just what the final cost will be and when it will ever be truly operational and whether it’ll even be relevant. And just this past week we’ve seen the result of what happens when you have overpaid bureaucrats running the show. The San Francisco Superior Court issued layoff notices to over 40% of its workforce and it will result in the closure of 25 courtrooms. Layoffs also affected the courts in San Joaquin County. Other counties continue to operate with depleted funds and depleted workforces. And the judicial crisis in San Francisco is just a spark that will result in an inferno that will consume more and more courts.

All the while, the building of multi-million dollar courthouses in tiny municipalities goes on and CCMS’s appetite for tax dollars continues to grow with no end in sight.

The AOC and the Judicial Council’s blunder cannot continue without comment or criticism. And so dear AOC Watcher readers and followers, I say unto thee: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

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.”

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Schwarzenegger Announces Ron George’s Replacement

From the San Francisco Chronicle.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a state appellate justice with a reputation as a moderate Republican, was nominated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today to succeed the retiring Ronald George as California’s chief justice.

A Filipina, she would be the second woman and the first non-white to head the state’s judiciary. She would also give the seven-member state Supreme Court a female majority for the first time in its history.

“She is a living example of the American dream,” Schwarzenegger said in announcing his selection of the 50-year-old jurist, whom he named in 2005 to the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento.

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