Friday, March 25, 2011
Four Ex-Presiding Judges Endorse Bill Limiting AOC Authority
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Four former presiding judges of the Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday endorsed legislation that would guarantee the autonomy of local trial courts.
Judges Victor E. Chavez, J. Stephen Czuleger, Robert A. Dukes and William A. MacLaughlin informed colleagues that they support AB 1208, in anticipation of a survey by the California Judges Association regarding the measure. MacLaughlin said the letter endorsing the Trial Court Rights Act of 2011 went out among the state’s bench officers yesterday.
In their “Dear Colleagues” letter, dated Wednesday and obtained by the MetNews, the jurists advised the legislation “has become necessary because of the ever increasing intrusion of the [Judicial] Council and [Administrative Office of the Courts] upon the authority of the trial courts to make appropriate financial and operational policy decisions affecting the needs of our court and those we serve most immediately.”
Dukes said yesterday the letter “speaks for itself,” and that “we collectively felt it would be appropriate for us to give our own views” since “the issue regarding whether judges should be in support of the pending legislation is presently being debated among the judicial officers of the court,” and their opinions are being polled by the Superior Court’s executive committee as well as the CJA.
A spokesperson for the court said the executive committee is slated to deliberate the issue at a meeting April 20.
MacLaughlin said he and the other authors had “received a significant number of inquiries from other judges about our views,” and “rather than continue to receive individual inquiries and make individual responses, it seemed the best way to respond was to make a letter and distribute it.”
He commented that “there is a lot of discussion going on statewide,” and “I’m aware that there are differing opinions by judges throughout the state.”
The Alliance of California Judges has backed the measure, while Court of Appeal Justice Richard D. Huffman of the Fourth District’s Div. One, a member of the Judicial Council, has spoken out against it. The bill was introduced last month by Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Industry, and is awaiting committee assignment.
It would grant the trial courts more authority over their administration and funding, and cites the Legislature’s 1997 directive in the Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act for the judiciary to “adopt a Trial Court Bill of Financial Management Rights.”
MacLaughlin said “I don’t think one needs to be a member of the alliance, or of any other group, to be interested in the issue,” noting that he is not a member of the dissident judge’s organization, and “the views expressed [in the letter] are certainly my own.”
In their Wednesday letter, Chavez, Czuleger, Dukes and MacLaughlin claimed “[t]he principles intended to be protected by that provision have too often been overlooked or ignored and has resulted in an unhealthy imbalance between the statewide and local authority of the courts.”
The judges opined “AB 1208 seeks only to acknowledge and reestablish important concepts of balance inherent in the original legislation in 1997.”
Czuleger acknowledged yesterday that he takes issue with some provisions in the bill as currently drafted, but that he “agrees in principle and concept” and insisted its enactment “really is necessary to adjust the relationship between the trial courts and the AOC.”
He said “what it comes down to is the classic question of who knows best… the central authority or those on the ground?” While the needs of each court may vary, Czuleger suggested there “is a give and take” and “presiding judges know how to do that give and take.”
Huffman, however, insisted “the whole premise of the bill has been that the council hasn’t done its job and the local courts have been micromanaged.” The premise, he said, is “demonstrably false.”
Huffman, who earlier this month submitted a strongly worded letter opposing AB 1208 to San Diego’s major newspaper, insisted that rules of court were adopted by the council in 1998 which “essentially decentralized the financial management process” and are “still in effect today.”
He added that “the concept that, ‘oh gee whiz, the local courts are being dominated by this centralized bureaucracy’ is really nonsense” since the Judicial Council’s Trial Court Budget Working Group, which is made up of local court administrators and presiding judges, allows local courts “to have their views expressed” and be “heavily involved in all the decision making.”
The justice conceded the judicial branch “undoubtedly…has some issues that need to be resolved” but argued “the notion that the Legislature needs to step in and tell us how to do business, I think, is just fundamentally wrong.”
Chavez did not return a call seeking comment.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company