Friday, April 8, 2011
Judges Association Survey Results Show Restlessness With AOC
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A majority of California Judges Association members who responded to a survey initiated by the group’s leadership are dissatisfied with current governance of the judicial branch and with the Judicial Council’s oversight of the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Central Case Management System, results released yesterday show.
The results also showed members closely divided in their views on AB 1208, a bill that would guarantee administrative and financial autonomy for trial courts. While a slight plurality of respondents support the bill, neither side had a majority because a number of judges said they had inadequate information to make up their minds.
The CJA reported that 877 members—34 percent of a total of 2,564—responded to the survey sent out during the last days of March. Members, who include sitting and retired judges and judicial officers, provided over 120 pages of comments, in addition to responding to the five specific questions asked, the CJA said in a release.
The association reported that 53 percent of respondents were generally or somewhat dissatisfied with the current governance of the branch while 34 percent were generally satisfied or somewhat satisfied. Further, 62 percent were generally or somewhat dissatisfied with the Judicial Council’s oversight of the AOC and 33 were generally or somewhat satisfied.
Seventy-nine percent reported some level of dissatisfaction were the council’s oversight of CCMS, while only 16 percent said they were generally or somewhat satisfied.
With respect to AB 1208, the Trial Court Rights Act of 2011, 48 percent were generally or somewhat supportive while 45 percent were generally or somewhat opposed to the bill.
The survey included one other question, asking respondents whether they believed “that judicial branch governance should remain within the judicial branch itself, and not become a function of external political processes.” Eighty-four percent of respondents agreed, while eight percent disagreed.
San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Keith Davis, the CJA president, issued a statement saying the board would discuss the results at a board meeting tomorrow in Indian Wells. He was noncommittal as to what the outcome of that discussion was likely to be.
“The judges of California have shared and will no doubt continue to share their individual and collective desire to see that the judicial branch is governed wisely.” Davis—who was unavailable yesterday for comment, said in the statement. “This dialogue could not come at a more important time. Our members are providing thoughtful and provocative ideas and CJA is proud to be the conduit for this conversation and why for over 82 years CJA remains The Voice of the Judiciary.”
The directors of the Alliance of California Judges, a group generally critical of the Judicial Council and AOC and strongly supportive of AB 1208, issued a statement hailing the results.
“Given the extensive efforts by CJA leadership, the Chief Justice and various judges and justices loyal to the Judicial Council and AOC to convince judges that legislative involvement in the judiciary was inappropriate, the Alliance views support for AB1208 to be a significant statement by judges,” the alliance directors said.
They added that they had been told that the 120 pages of survey comments would “be released at some point” and “will undoubtedly prove to be interesting reading.”
In an apparent reference to the Strategic Evaluation Committee named by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye last week, the directors commented:
“We wonder this: Since the clear majority of the judges who expressed an opinion are quite dissatisfied with the Judicial Council—the numbers range from 55% dissatisfaction generally, 65% dissatisfaction with oversight of the AOC, and almost 80% dissatisfaction with the lack of CCMS oversight, how will a committee formed only to look at the AOC help solve the problem? How will the Council fix itself? AB 1208 aside, it appears that a total rethinking of the proper role of the Judicial Council and AOC is long overdue. “
The alliance was also critical of the inclusion of the “external political processes” question, saying it may have influenced some into negative responses to the AB 1208 question. “Please note that over 150 of the judges who returned the survey were so irate with this question that they refused to even answer it,” the group noted.
Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, D-Industry, who is sponsoring AB 1208, told the MetNews he was pleased to learn the survey results. They show that the dissatisfaction voiced by judges who encouraged him to introduce the bill is “not some figment of someone’s imagination,” he said.
The lawmaker also revealed that he was told by judicial branch lobbyist Curtis Child earlier this week that the branch opposes his bill, even though the Judicial Council has not taken a formal position and is scheduled to discuss the bill at a meeting later this month.
Child said the council “has an executive committee and they have authority and they voted to oppose the bill,” Calderon related.
“It’s strange but it’s pretty much par for the course,” he opined. “They operate in committees and the rest of the body doesn’t necessarily know what’s going on. And here they are trying to run an 1100-person bureaucracy.”
Calderon also agreed with the alliance that the “loaded question” regarding external political processes “kind of depressed the number” of judges endorsing his bill in the survey. The veteran legislator said he intends to push for a committee hearing and seek out support for his bill.
Neither Child nor an AOC spokesperson could be reached for comment.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company