Monday, July 16, 2012
Frustrated Judge Lance Ito Calls AOC ‘Deceptive, Vindictive, Manipulated’
Jurist Bemoans Losing His Courtroom, but Says He Has No Plans to Quit
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito, expressing frustration over the closing of his courtroom, said Friday the judicial branch has itself to blame for its financial predicament.
In an interview elaborating on comments he submitted to the Judicial Council, he said he was not excusing the Legislature, which he said treats the judiciary as “another special interest” rather than “an independent and essential branch of government.”
But the recent acknowledgment that the judiciary’s plan for a central computer system had essentially flopped, at a cost of $2 billion—“that’s $1 million per courtroom,” Ito remarked—along with lesser failures, “have shown we’re incompetent to govern ourselves” and “done long term damage to the branch itself,” he said.
In his comments to the council, reproduced on Page 3, Ito became one of several judges who have urged rapid implementation of the recommendations of the chief justice’s Strategic Evaluation Committee. He accused the AOC of having adopted a “circle the wagons mentality,” when what it should to is to acknowledge that it “has been run in a deceptive, vindictive and manipulative manner” and get about the business of reform.
“The bottom line is that NOTHING will change,” he wrote, “until...the selection process for Judicial Council membership is changed from dictatorial to democratic” or the council “actually takes its role seriously rather than being rubber stamping sycophants.”
Ito said he was writing those words after spending an afternoon “boxing up my personal belongings from my bench as the jury from what may be very last trial of my judicial career ponders the fate of a man charged with a double murder for financial gain.”
He told the MetNews Friday that he has no immediate plans to retire, although he just completed 23 years of judicial service and will be 62 years old next month. He said he will not know what his next assignment will be until he meets with the presiding judge in the next week or so.
In the meantime he is addressing “about a week’s worth of paperwork,” Friday was devoted to working on warrants, he said.
His frustration with his personal situation is clear—“I am mildly annoyed to be one of the persons chosen to be rusticated,” he put it—but he says far more than the personal wellbeing of judges is at stake.
“One hundred twenty miles south you’ll find a judiciary that doesn’t function very well,” he said, “and you see what happens as a result.”
He noted that in some counties, elected officials are stepping up to help the courts. Ventura County, for example, is using county funds to keep the Simi Valley courthouse open.
The Los Angeles County trial courts, he said, had that type of relationship with the county when the trial courts were county-funded. Now the courts are dependent on state funding, which is drying up, and if the governor’s tax initiative fails in November, “we are going to have a real disaster.”
Ito Comments on SEC Report
To the Chief Justice and Members of the Judicial Council:
The reaction by the Judicial Council to the SEC report, to send the issues evaluated out for yet more study rather than taking immediate action, bodes III for the expectation any positive action will follow. Shortly after spending the better part of two days studying the thoughtful, thorough and comprehensive report, I spoke with a close friend and AOC acolyte. I expected her to finally concede the AOC has been run in a deceptive, vindictive and manipulative manner, and that the Judicial Council had abdicated its fiduciary duties to the trial courts and the citizenry for the past decade. Instead I got what I later learned was the list of AOC responsive talking points that the SEC report was a, “..snapshot in time,” a time long past and that many of the called for reforms were already underway. It is apparent the AOC has adopted a circle the wagons mentality rather than using the report as a starting point for a new era of actual rather than faux transparency. Again, I ask: Who in the AOC drafted and who approved the submission of the trailer bill that would ship the local courts of their ability to select a presiding judge?
The bottom line is that NOTHING will change until one of two things happen: 1) The selection process for Judicial Council membership is changed from dictatorial to democratic with the trial and appellate courts able to vote; or 2) The new Judicial Council actually takes its role seriously rather than being rubber stamping sycophants. The fact 99% of the votes of the Judicial Council have been unanimous for the past decade speaks for itself. Likewise the fact Judge David Wesley’s motion to accept the SEC report and to move forward immediately died for lack of a second. For the past five years trial court judges and administrators have been pointing out the intuitively obvious disaster presented by CCMS, but the Judicial Council failed to exercise even a minimum of oversight. One would think some questions might be raised when the original cost estimate increases by a factor of ten. Even after the state auditor’s report ripped the program and pointed out the AOC’s gross incompetence and mismanagement, the Judicial Council continued to support it. I am reminded of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
Voices of dissent were not tolerated in the past and punishment in the form of favoritism and funding decisions were commonly used and widely feared. Those judges posting comments in support of immediate implementation of the SEC report’s recommendations will likely never be appointed to any Judicial Council position or committee and can expect their application to sit on assignment to be denied. CJER will drop them as instructors. The AOC and Judicial Council’s anti-Los Angeles bias is palpable. The Chief Justice told editors of the Los Angeles Times that the LA. County Superior Court’s position is ‘very much misguided” and called then LA Presiding Judge McCoy’s forecasts of impending closures and layoffs a “Chicken Little approach.” “I think it’s very interesting that no other court has claimed that there will be such calamitous results 2/16/2010 LA Times. Today courts across the state are closing courtrooms, in large part due to the fiscal mismanagement by the AOC and the lack of diligence by the Judicial Council. The Full Court Press we saw over the past month in Sacramento with the AOC lobbyists boiling the halls of the legislature and the office of the Governor’s Budget Director were all efforts too little and at least four years too late. And now it appears those efforts were as much directed at avoiding AB 1208 type language as they were towards saving the judicial branch. The slow motion train wreck that California’s budget has become was apparent to the Executive Committee of the Los Angeles Superior Court in late 2008 when the first round of new austerity measures were discussed and voted upon.
Mine is one of 56 courtrooms closed in Los Angeles County as of July 1st and I spent my afternoon today boxing up my personal belongings from my bench as the jury from what may be the very last trial of my judicial career ponders the fate of a man charged with a double murder for financial gain. What is maddening is that this did not have to be. Sadly, the AOC and the Judicial Council, in their prepared talking points in response to the SEC report, ask us still and again to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company