Wednesday, December 23, 2009
AOC Official Disputes Claim Local Courts Lack Control of Finances
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Existing law provides an adequate framework for trial court autonomy over finances, a high-ranking state court official said yesterday.
Administrative Office of the Courts Chief Deputy Director Ronald Overholt, responding to a letter sent to judges statewide last week by the Alliance of California Judges, provided the following statement:
“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.”
He attached a letter that had been sent by an AOC lawyer to Kern Superior Court Judge David R. Lampe, a director of the alliance, last month in response to Lampe’s request for a copy of the “Trial Courts Bill of Financial Management Rights” referenced in an uncodified section of the trial court funding bill enacted more than 10 years ago.
Bill of Rights
In its letter to judges Friday, the alliance—a recently formed group seeking greater autonomy for trial courts—said it would call on the Legislature 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.”
In his letter to Lampe, however, AOC Assistant General Counsel William L. Kasley said 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.”
The MetNews, however, yesterday received a copy of an internal e-mail in which between AOC spokesperson Philip Carrizosa wrote:
“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.]
“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.”
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.” He said he did not foresee any reconciliation of the divergent views of the AOC and the alliance absent legislation.
Alliance board member Justice Thomas Hollenhorst, a Fourth District Court of Appeal justice, told the MetNews Monday that he has begun discussions with legislators from the Inland Empire about such a Bill of Rights. He said it was too soon, however, to know whether legislation will be introduced in the upcoming session.
He also suggested that the board’s Sacramento-based members, Sacramento Superior Court Judges Maryanne Gilliard and Loren McMaster, may be well-positioned to express their concerns to lawmakers.
Gilliard is married to a political consultant with close ties to a number of Republican legislators, while McMaster was once chief counsel to a state employees’ union.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company