Wednesday, May 11, 2011
CJA Provides Member Survey Comments to Chief Justice
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state judiciary’s dissatisfaction with current governance of the branch reflected in a March survey conducted by the California Judges Association stems principally from the perception that the Judicial Council is not representative of the state’s judges and provides insufficient oversight for the Administrative Office of the Courts, according to a summary of the survey respondents’ written comments provided by the CJA to the chief justice.
A letter by CJA President Keith Davis, a member of the San Bernardino Superior Court bench, addressed to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye accompanied the nine-page summary and indicated that the documents were to be hand delivered on Monday. A Judicial Council spokesperson said these items arrived yesterday in the mail and that Cantil-Sakauye had not yet seen them.
Davis, who did not return a call seeking comment, said in his letter that CJA members were not required to provide written comments in response to the survey, but several did so, and their remarks were summarized in order to protect their confidentiality. The full text of his letter appears on page 3.
The CJA released the survey results last month, which reflected that that 877 members—34 percent of a total of 2,564—had responded and provided over 120 pages of comments in addition to responding to the five specific questions asked.
Of those respondents, 53 percent were generally or somewhat dissatisfied with the current governance of the branch while 62 percent were generally or somewhat dissatisfied with the Judicial Council’s oversight of the AOC. Seventy-nine percent reported some level of dissatisfaction were the council’s oversight of the California Case Management System project.
The summary of written comments said that respondents feel “the Judicial Council and the AOC are arrogant and insular in the way that they govern the judicial branch.”
Survey respondents perceive the council as having been “designed so as to yield members who will simply accept, without question, the decisions of the Chief Justice and the leaders of the AOC,” so that the “outcomes and Judicial Council meetings appear pre-ordained,” the summary said.
The council is also is seen as “not actually providing governance” to the AOC, which is “too bloated” and operates with “a complete lack of transparency.”
Respondents cited CCMS as “an embarrassing example” of the lack of council oversight for the AOC, and felt the $1.9 billion program was “a complete waste” which created “a public scandal, seriously harming the public perception of the ability of the judiciary to handle its affairs.”
Although the survey respondents were split almost equally as to whether to support AB 1208, the Trial Court Bill of Rights Act, over 80 percent said they generally agreed with the proposition that judicial branch governance “should not become a function of external political process.”
The written comments indicated that respondents felt the independence of the judiciary “is paramount” and problems within the branch should be resolved by the judicial branch itself.
The Alliance of California Judges, a group generally critical of the Judicial Council and AOC and strongly supportive of AB 1208, said in statement yesterday that it “agrees with the majority of judges statewide who believe that our Branch’s governance structure is broken” and “that real democratic reforms are necessary to ensure that public dollars are spent wisely and not wasted on bureaucratic boondoggles like CCMS.”
Alliance members “stand with our fellow judges in pointing out the need for real transparent oversight of the AOC” and “are hopeful that the Chief Justice will respect the collective wisdom and advice of the trial judges of this state who want our Branch to succeed,” the group said.
Letter From CJA President Keith Davis to Chief Justice
Hon. Tani Cantil-Sakauye
California Supreme Court
350 McAllister Street
San Francisco,CA 94102
RE: CJA Survey Results and Comments
Dear Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye:
Thank you for your solicitation of suggestions from the California judiciary as to potential improvements of governance and administration of the judicial branch. You indicated your specific interest in receiving the results of the recent member survey conducted by the California Judges Association.
The votes cast by CJA members responding to our survey yielded the following results:
1) 53% are dissatisfied with the Judicial Council’s governance of judicial branch affairs;
2) 62% are dissatisfied with the Judicial Council’s oversight of the AOC;
3) 79.22% are dissatisfied with the Judicial Council’s oversight of CCMS;
[With respect to CCMS, of those people who have used it, 75.8% were dissatisfied with the Judicial Council’s oversight of CCMS; and, of those people who have not used it, 78.2% were dissatisfied with CCMS oversight by the Judicial Council.]
4) There was no majority position on AB 1208, with 48.70% supporting and 45.45% opposing the bill;
5) 84.22% agree that judicial branch governance should remain within the branch itself, and not become a function of external political processes.
Our members were not required to provide any written comments, but many members chose to provide comments on the issues presented by the survey. Although the individual comments are confidential, we have prepared a summary (enclosed) of the general comments obtained from the survey responses, drafted in a manner to portray the comments without quoting (in order to preserve confidentiality).
In regard to those CJA judges who provided their opinions in the survey responses, we find several themes emerge:
· There should be greater inclusiveness and a promotion of greater participation in the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council members are not representative of California judges. The Judicial Council is perceived as an exclusive group unwilling to address the needs and concerns of California judges. Debate and discussion of contrary or competing ideas is highly discouraged, and those not in lock-step are publicly berated. Accordingly, in order to believe they have a voice and in order to foster healthy discussion and debate of issues facing the judicial branch, judges suggest that the Judicial Council be more democratic, including the opportunity for judges to elect representatives as voting members of the Judicial Council.
· The Judicial Council must exercise greater oversight of the AOC. The CCMS debacle is a symptom of fiscal mismanagement by the AOC which was greatly exacerbated by the lack of any meaningful oversight.
· Although there are administrative and fiscal matters appropriate for statewide management, the AOC should share power with the local courts. Local administration and local financial matters should be handled by the local trial courts. The AOC should not be involved in or impede the selection of presiding judges or court executive directors for the county trial courts. Requiring AOC approval for all aspects of each local trial court financial, administrative, and facility matters is not more efficient or more effective. Useless and unnecessary bureaucracy existing within and implemented by the AOC in the administration of the trial courts should be curbed.
· Independence of the judicial branch is of paramount importance. As a general proposition, the judiciary should take responsibility and competently handle its problems internally within the branch. That said, although there was no consensus on AB1208, almost half of the judges supported it. Among the almost half of the judges who opposed it, some agreed that change is needed but preferred reform to come from within the judicial branch.
The information is provided solely to assist you and the Judicial Council in your collective efforts to improve the judicial branch and its administration.
Chief Justice, consistent with our 82 year old history and tradition, CJA looks forward to being of continued service to you and the Judicial Council in the weeks and months ahead.
Very truly yours,
Hon. Keith D. Davis
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company