Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, September 10, 2012


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Alliance ‘Perplexed’ at Selection of Lobbyist to New Post at AOC




The Alliance of California Judges has expressed its dismay at the appointment of the top lobbyist for the Administrative Office of the Courts as the agency’s new chief operating officer.

Curtis Child was named to the newly created post, effective next month. As COO, he will be one of three division heads reporting directly to new Administrative Director of the Courts Steven Jahr, who will assume that role Oct. 9.

“While we were not surprised that current acting Executive Director Jody Patel and acting Chief Deputy Director Curt Soderland were chosen (as they would otherwise lose their jobs with the elimination of the AOC Regional Offices), we were perplexed by the selection of” Child, the alliance directors said in a missive dated Thursday and addressed to “Members and Others.”

Budget Trailer

The stated cause of the group’s displeasure is a lack of transparency with regard to whether Child or a subordinate attempted to sneak language into a 2009 budget trailer bill that would have deprived trial courts of the authority to select their own clerks and presiding and assistant presiding judges.

The language, which was never actually introduced, has been frequently cited by AOC critics as an example of stealthy behavior designed to rob trial courts of their autonomy.

The alliance recently made public what ii said was a newly discovered email, dated June 16, 2009, from Donna Hershkowitz, assistant director of the AOC Office of Governmental Affairs, passing along proposed Department of Finance judicial budget language.

“I’m forwarding the language finance sent,“ Hershkowitz wrote. “The AOC made revisions to the language to provide necessary technical assistance to make the language work.”

The revisions would have amended Government Code Section 77001 to read, “The Judicial Council shall adopt rules, policies, or directives, which shall provide, consistent with statute … means of selecting presiding judges, assistant presiding judges, executive officers or court administrators, clerks of court, and jury commissioners.”

The AOC has declined to say who authorized the draft language, and has insisted all along that it was designed to fix technical problems and not to substantively effect courts’ authority over selection of their presiding judge and administrative personnel. The Department of Finance said at the time that it did not ask for the language.

The alliance also released an Aug. 6 email from Kern Superior Court Judge David Lampe, an alliance director, to Patel, complaining about the AOC’s reluctance to respond to his and other judges’ requests for information about the trailer bill and other matters.

This Year’s Budget

One of those matters was whether AOC personnel lobbied earlier this year against alliance-backed amendments to Government Code Sec. 68085. Those amendments, adopted as part of a trailer bill to this year’s budget, restrict the Judicial Council and AOC from taking monies from the Trial Court Trust Fund without consent of the Legislature or the courts.

The alliance has questioned Child’s alleged role in opposing the amendments in light of the chief justice’s subsequent comments that she was not opposed to them.

Lampe said he had received a response from Child which “was wholly non-responsive, saying, in essence, that his advocacy was consistent with Judicial Council policy.”

Lampe vented:

“That’s the question:  DID the Council, Chief, or ANYONE ELSE tell him to lobby against the changes to Government Code 68085, and did he in fact do so? 

“Why do you allow your staff to stonewall simple requests such as these?”

Lampe said he did not receive a response from Patel, but was advised by email that his request had been sent to Third District Court of Appeal Justice Harry Hull, a member of the Judicial Council, for information.

Lampe complained:

“Justice Hull was given the request by AOC on August 7, 2012, and has simply ignored it.  The stonewalling on this issue continues, as does the AOC practice of referring uncomfortable matters to Justice Hull, who insists on responding, if at all, by U.S. Mail only.”

The AOC, through a spokesperson, declined comment Friday.

In other news, the alliance said Friday that while it had no received a response to its request about how much the new division head would be paid, it had “learned from a member of the press...their request for this information yesterday was promptly met with this response: Jody Patel will be paid $216,000 per year, while Curt Soderlund and Curt Child will each be paid $198,000 per year.”

The alliance said it had also not received a reply to its requests for information about the benefits packages for the three “newly elevated bureaucrats” and about the AOC’s apparent plan to reimburse appellate justices up to $300 each to attend next month’s California Judges Association conference.

“We made an information request two lines long that asked [Chad Finke, director of the AOC Court Programs and Services Division] whether this was true, whether trial court judges would also be reimbursed, and who authorized the reimbursement of justices,” the alliance reported. “That matter was immediately shunted to Justice Hull, who has yet to acknowledge the request. As we noted previously, Justice Hull refuses to answer these referrals other than by U.S. mail. We also note that Justice Hull, chair of the Rules Committee, has no prescribed duties or particular authority in this area. If we receive a response, we will share that with you....”


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