Thursday, May 31, 2012
Alliance Critical of Chief Justice’s Response to Committee Report
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The Alliance of California Judges yesterday criticized Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye for criticizing the scathing report released Friday by the Strategic Evaluation Committee.
“The Alliance is troubled that the Chief Justice would immediately question the accuracy and validity of a report that was the product of a committee that she selected,” the directors of the alliance said in a statement. “Committee members worked diligently for over a year on the project while performing their duties as judges. We note that their task was made more difficult by the usual reticence of AOC staff to provide information.”
The statement included a link to a videotape in which the chief justice addresses AOC employees about the nearly-300-page report, which called the agency “dysfunctional.” The video was included in a Court News Update that the AOC regularly sends to judges, the alliance said.
The Alliance, in its initial response to the report on Tuesday, had criticized the chief justice for releasing the report on the eve of a holiday weekend, suggesting the timing was intended to mute media reaction.
‘Very Helpful Recommendations’
In her brief remarks, Cantil-Sakauye offered guarded praise for the committee, saying it had offered “some very helpful recommendations” which will be considered by the Judicial Council’s Executive and Planning Committee.
But she also suggested that the report was “a snapshot in time” that did not reflect the changes that have taken place at the AOC since the committee was formed over a year ago. She also told employees there was “a good chance you will find a find information that is substantially incorrect in your view,” and noted that the report was unlike a traditional audit, because there was no opportunity to respond before the report was finalized.
“While the report is critical of the AOC,” she added, “it is not critical of its employees.”
The committee which drew up the report was created in March 2001. It is chaired by retired Third District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland and includes Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William A. MacLaughlin and retired Superior Court Judge Judith Chirlin among its members.
The group described the AOC as secretive and top-heavy with overpaid executives.
Too Much Growth
The report chided the AOC for claiming in February that it employed “more than 750” when it concluded that the AOC has grown from 430 workers in 2002 to more than 1,100 last year with hundreds earning six figure salaries amid a supposed hiring freeze. AOC managers conceded they got around the hiring freeze by employing temporary and contract workers.
The report also said the AOC appeared guilty of violating its own work rules by allowing some workers to telecommute from long distances, including one attorney who works from Switzerland. The report criticized the agency for a lack of transparency.
“The AOC’s reporting of staffing levels has been misleading, leading to mistrust of the AOC,” the report said. “Disingenuously suggesting that AOC staffing levels have been reduced in response to branch-wide budget and staffing cuts has led to further mistrust and cynicism.”
‘Needs to Be Right-Sized’
The report calls for staffing cuts to fewer than 700 employees and for the agency’s headquarters to be moved from San Francisco to Sacramento, an idea recently rejected by a state Assembly committee. “The organization needs to be right-sized,” the report concluded.
The release of the report also comes amid Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to cut $544 million from the third branch’s budget.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, the chief justice said the report was a look at the past and didn’t consider the AOC’s current plans to grapple with deep budget cuts. She also defended the timing of the release of the document, saying she released it as soon as she received it.
The alliance called the report “an A-to-Z indictment of an out of control organization,” and “an absolute ‘must read’ for everyone concerned about the functionality and credibility of our judicial branch.” The group called for even more staff cuts.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company