Monday, March 1, 2010
Judicial Council Defers Considering Conflict of Interest Changes
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Judicial Council on Friday deferred action on proposed amendments to the Administrative Office of the Courts’ Conflict of Interest Code in the face of complaints by a dissident judge’s group over adequate notice.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan of the Alliance of California Judges said the council agreed to shelve for the time being a proposal which would make changes to classifications determining the degree of financial disclosure required by AOC employees.
He said his group, which has been critical of the Judicial Council and the AOC, only found out about the proposed changes last Monday, and objected in an e-mail that day by Superior Court Judge Tia Fisher.
The Judicial Council originally placed the proposal on the consent agenda for the meeting of its Executive and Planning Committee on Friday, but decided to defer consideration “to a future meeting” after receiving Fisher’s e-mail, a spokesperson said.
Fisher objected that Government Code Sec. 87311.5 requires that review and preparation of conflict of interest codes for judicial agencies be carried out under procedures which guarantee “residents of the jurisdiction…adequate notice and a fair opportunity to present their views,” and that Sec. 87308 allows “any resident of the state” to seek judicial review.
“The report accompanying this agenda item makes it clear that the Conflict of Interest Code was never circulated prior to being placed on the Council consent agenda. The author takes the position that ‘because the AOC Conflict of Interest Code is an internal document that affects only AOC employees, this proposal was not circulated for comment.’....
“Obviously, this procedure deprives residents of the state of their due process rights.”
Horan said his group had no specific objections to the proposed changes, but only because “they haven’t been out there long enough to know” their full impact.
A Judicial Council report he provided indicated that the proposal would add “various classifications that [AOC] staff have determined should file Statements of Economic Interests, along with their required categories of disclosure,” and delete two classifications relating to architects which “no longer exist.”
The Judicial Council spokesperson characterized the changes as minor, and noted that the current AOC Conflict of Interest Code has been reviewed and subject to comment “on several different occasions.”
However, Horan—citing what he described as an increasing reliance by the AOC on consultants, who are subject to the highest degree of disclosure of financial interests—speculated the changes might be related to AOC Director William Vickrey’s ability in certain instances to demonstrate that consultants dealing with narrow tasks are excused from some disclosure requirements.
Horan acknowledged that Vickrey’s power to do so was “legal,” but said his group wants to know how often that occurs with how many consultants, and a list of such individuals’ duties.
The judge also took issue with what he deemed initial reluctance by the AOC to share Fisher’s e-mail with individual members of the council at the meeting, but the council spokesperson said a copy was provided to council members last Thursday.
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