Friday, August 20, 2010
Governor Signs Judicial Branch Whistleblower Bill
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill that grants employees of the judicial branch whistleblower protections similar to those enjoyed by other state employees.
AB 1749, by Assembly members Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and Audra Strickland, R-Westlake Village was signed on Wednesday and will take effect Jan. 1.
The legislation brings the Administrative Office of the Courts and the trial and appellate courts under most provisions of the California Whistleblower Protection Act. Among other things, the act protects employees from being disciplined for disclosing governmental wrongdoing and imposes civil and criminal liability on an employee who uses his or her position to coerce a whistleblower into not disclosing wrongdoing or to retaliate against a fellow employee for making a protected disclosure.
Some in the judicial branch voiced separation-of-powers concerns when the bill was first introduced. But the Judicial Council endorsed the bill after it was amended in the Assembly, and it sailed to passage in both houses without a dissenting vote.
One amendment provides that where a court or AOC employee files a complaint under the act, the State Personnel Board will not make the final decision, as it does in the case of executive branch employees. Instead, the board will investigate and make findings and recommendations, but the final decision will be left up to the employing agency.
The other amendment states that liability may not be imposed on judges or justices to the extent they “are immune from liability under the doctrine of judicial immunity.”
In its comments to the Legislature on the amended version of the legislation, the Judicial Council explained:
“The courts and the AOC are entrusted with a significant share of state taxpayer dollars, and it is appropriate that judicial branch entities are held accountable for their expenditure of those funds in a manner analogous to the other branches. AB 1749 will promote that result and ensure that there is no appearance that judicial branch expenditures are lacking in accountability or transparency. By creating a unique procedure for consideration of retaliation complaints, which vests final decision-making authority for complaints filed with the employer and the State Personnel Board within the judicial branch, AB 1749 clearly acknowledges that an independent co-equal branch of government must have independent authority to oversee its employees.”
The governor yesterday also signed into law SB 1274, by the Senate Judicary Committee, which, among other things, permits a court to electronically serve a document, in the same manner in which parties electronically serve documents, where a party has agreed to accept such service or where personal service of the document is not required. The bill also requires the Judicial Council to adopt rules relating to the integrity of electronic service.
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