Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Judicial Council Approves Restructuring of AOC Executive Office
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Judicial Council Friday approved a proposal to restructure the Executive Office of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The proposal by the council’s Executive and Planning Committee, implementing recommendations of the Strategic Evaluation Committee with slight modifications, drew no apparent opposition at the council meeting, which took place in San Francisco and was broadcast on the state courts website.
Council members said the changes would make responsibility within the office more focused.
Among those endorsing them were SEC chair and Placer Superior Court Judge Charles Wachob, SEC vice- chair and Merced Superior Presiding Judge Brian L. McCabe, and SEC member and Riverside Superior Court Judge Sherrill Ellsworth.
Praise for Miller
Each of the three effusively praised the Executive and Planning Committee chair, Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Douglas Miller, for involving them in the process and acting in “the true spirit of change for the best,” as Ellsworth put it. The judges also praised the chief justice for her embrace of reform.
Wachob, McCabe, and Ellsworth have all been appointed to the Judicial Council, effective next month. Wachob and McCabe will be advisory members and Ellsworth a voting member.
The committee report presented Friday addresses all 151 recommendations of the SEC, Miller said.
Under the reorganization, three officials—designated the chief administrative officer, chief of staff, and chief operating officer—will report to the administrative director of the courts, and each would head one of three divisions, so that all other AOC personnel will fall in a clear line of authority leading up to one of those three on the organizational chart. The exception would be the chief counsel—replacing the current position of general counsel—who would report directly to the administrative director at his discretion.
Ideally, it was explained, the CAO would have a strong background in finance, the COS in policy, and the COO in court administration. Since the CAO and COO would spend nearly all of their time in the office, Miler told the council, there would always be a decisionmaker present while the administrative director was traveling.
The chief deputy director’s position would be abolished, along with that of regional director.
In addition, the performance of the administrative director would be formally reviewed each year. The first such review, Miller explained, would take place in October 2013, one year after the new director takes office.
Retired Shasta Superior Court Judge Steve Jahr is scheduled to take over the directorship Oct. 8. But interim Administrative Director of the Courts Jody Patel will begin planning for the changes before that, Miller explained.
Jahr endorsed the reorganization at Friday’s meeting. It addresses an important goal of the SEC, he explained, which is making certain that the AOC conduct its internal and external responsibilities in a way that the internal responsibilities are not neglected while the director is traveling around the state and dealing with external matters.
The Executive and Planning Committee report includes proposed timelines , under which various steps in the reorganization would be completed at various times over the next 14 months. McCabe, however, warned that those timelines might be overly optimistic.
“You cannot change the course of a battleship on a dime,” he said. “…These things take time.”
In public comment prior to the consideration of the committee report, Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan, while naming no names, offered a plea for unity and consensus within the branch as reform goes forward.
The justice, whose remarks were alluded to several times during the meeting, told the council:
“I suggest that today we should agree to turn a page. While we can learn from our history, we cannot change it. While we cannot change our history, we can, and must, responsibly guide our future. Oh sure, we can continue to look backward, focus on blame and nurse our grudges. We can talk at each other rather than speak with each other. Or we can take a deep breath; remember that we are professionals, entrusted with substantial responsibilities; and resolve to work together as partners, rather than fight as adversaries. To reason, rather than demand; to discern, rather than dictate.”
In other business, the council:
Established a process and criteria for allocating state-level reserve funding. The council approved the Trial Court Budget Working Group’s recommendations regarding the process and criteria for trial courts to apply for reserve funding.
Approved recommendations from its Trial Court Budget Working Group on funding for various statewide programs that provide technology and administrative support for trial courts, support access to justice, and reimburse courts for miscellaneous court operation costs.
Approved budget change proposals for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Judicial Council/AOC, Judicial Branch Facility Program, and the trial courts, and
Directed staff of the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care to seek outside funding, including private foundation funding, for a statewide summit on truancy and school discipline.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company