Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Alliance Director Fisher Criticizes Legislative Analyst Report
LAO Defends Recommendation of Increased Centralization of Personnel Functions
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge, who serves on the board of the Alliance of California Judges, has criticized the state Legislative Analyst’s Office for a report that she says seeks to centralize court operations under the Judicial Council while disregarding the impact on the fair administration of justice.
Judge Tia Fisher said in her email Friday to LAO Senior Fiscal and Policy Analyst Drew Soderborg, a copy of which was disseminated by another judge, that she spoke on behalf of herself alone.
Fisher said she took issue with what she perceived as the LAO’s support of the CourTools program, and the manner in which it assesses performance, which she equated with a “public satisfaction survey.”
Fisher suggested that because “the rules and procedures related to due process may or may not be viewed by the public as evidence that they were being treated fairly,” measuring a court’s performance, based in part on surveys completed by litigants inquiring into their perception of how they were treated, would be “dangerous.”
Question of Perception
She said she did not “challenge the importance of how justice is perceived,” but said her obligation as a judge “is to ensure due process, regardless of public perception and regardless of public opinion,” which “is the very essence of the judicial branch and what makes it different from all others.”
The jurist also contended that including the cost of case processing, and the length of processing time until resolution, “have no place as legislative enactments,” as “measures of efficiency” are not “measures of justice.”
“When courts handling death penalty litigation are measured on legislatively enacted cost analysis or length of time from filing to verdict, with AOC oversight, as implied in your proposal for efficiency legislation, our Constitution has been trampled,” Fisher said.
Soderborg, who prepared the Sept. 28 report which suggested increasing state control over trial court operations, told the MetNews he responded to Fisher by email yesterday to address her concerns with the increased centralization of authority under the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Soderborg explained that his office had “settled on the Judicial Council taking a larger role… because we thought there needed to be a statewide entity that was more involved with trial court employee issues.”
He said the Department of Personnel had been considered, “but because of separation of power issues, it needed to be someone within judicial branch,” but still “a statewide entity, which essentially leaves you with the Judicial Council.”
The analyst also insisted that “we definitely did not have any of our recommendations suggested to us by anybody outside of our office.” Soderborg said that he and others from the LAO “did consult extensively with AOC and other stakeholders in the court, including judges, when preparing the report, but the recommendations are our own.”
Soderborg further averred that the genesis for the evaluation of the trial court realignment came from within the LAO office three years ago, when “my director at the time had suggested that this was an area that not a lot of people had looked at since the transition had occurred.”
He disclosed that “we thought long and hard about a lot of criticism people had levied at Judicial Council and AOC” in formulating their recommendations, but “we didn’t want to make governance decisions based on current criticism” because the report’s proposals would “represent permanent changes that outlast current composition of Judicial Council and AOC” and therefore needed “to be based on what entity could be implement the recommendations.”
The analyst also explained that the report was “not intending to imply that the Legislature should require courts to implement CourTools,” a program which was developed by the National Center for State Courts and measures court performance in 10 different areas such as employee satisfaction, accessibility, fairness, and equality of the trial courts, the resolution of cases in a timely manner, document retrieval, debt collection, and jury selection and the average cost of processing each type of case.
“We were not endorsing CourtTools,” Soderborg said, but merely “highlight[ing] an example of a comprehensive trial court performance assessment program that other states have used a parts of,” as “an example of what trial court performance assessment could look like.”
Fisher could not be reached for comment regarding Soderborg’s responses yesterday.
The report is posted online at http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2011/crim/trial-court-realignment/Trial Court Realignment 092811.pdf.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company