Friday, July 20, 2012
‘Now Is Time for Reform,’ Los Angeles Superior Court Tells AOC
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Judicial Council needs to implement reform of the Administrative Officer of the Courts, as proposed by the chief justice’s Strategic Evaluation Committee, without delay, the Los Angeles Superior Court has insisted.
“The fact that a new Administrative Director will soon be in place does not excuse or justify further Judicial Council delay in endorsing the SEC Report,” the court said in its formal comments on the report, a copy of which was obtained yesterday by the MetNews.
“The most significant AOC failures identified by the Report are, at bottom, failures of the Judicial Council to appropriately exercise its supervisory responsibility to oversee the AOC,” the court said. “Waiting in hopes that the AOC culture will eventually change for the better with a new Administrative Director abdicates the Council’s essential leadership role.”
Sunday is the deadline for submission of comments on the report, which was released by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye right before Memorial Day and was scathing in its criticisms of how California trial courts have been run. The chief justice has assigned the task of acting on the report to the council’s Executive and Planning Committee, chaired by Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Douglas Miller.
Courthouse News Service reported Wednesday that more than 90 percent of respondents have urged the council to implement the bulk, if not all, of the committee’s recommendations without delay. The Alliance for California Judges sent out an email yesterday urging those judges who have not responded to do so, warning that “your silence will be construed as acquiescence to the status quo.”
The local trial court endorsed immediate implementation of all SEC recommendations, praising the committee as having been “thorough, honest, independent and, most importantly, responsive to the legitimate criticisms of the Judicial Branch” and noting the diversity of its membership, its “comprehensive fact-gathering,” and its unanimity in reaching conclusions.
Beyond implementing the committee’s specific recommendations, the court said, the council must “[f]ully assert its governance authority over the AOC,” “[c]hange the culture of allowing the AOC to make policy while the Council plays only a tacit, symbolic or reactive role,” and “[p]rovide across-the-board oversight to insure the SEC recommendations are carried out and ask the members of the SEC to monitor progress and report to the Council at regular intervals.”
Rather than wait for a new director to be appointed, the court said, the council should design a process that will culminate in appointment of a director “who can be successful in meeting the goals set forth in the SEC Report” and whose performance will be evaluated based on success in achieving those goals.
“The Judicial Council’s fundamental task now is far more than simply giving a new Administrative Director an ‘opportunity’ to make unspecified changes,” the court wrote. “Rather, the Judicial Council’s duty now is to fulfill its leadership role, as never before, to demand change from the AOC, and to require that change with sufficient specificity in writing so the new Administrative Director will know from the very beginning what is expected.”
The SEC, the court said, was created to restore credibility that the branch had lost, in large part due to its costly, and ultimately failed, effort to implement a statewide case management system. That effort exposed the “lack of oversight and transparency” present in other aspects of AOC decisionmaking, the court said, citing the February 2011 report of the state auditor.
“The time for reform is now,” the court said in its concluding comment.
The MetNews yesterday also obtained the comments of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Dohi, who complained of “survey fatigue,” complaining:
“I’ve been asked for my opinion about AOC governance by the Strategic Evaluation Committee, by the California Judges Association, by my own court (twice), and now by the [Executive and Planning] Committee. I wonder why I bother answering.
“Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen survey answers critical of the AOC diluted with bogus ‘push’ questions...distorted by court leaders...or flat-out disregarded (which is what happened to the overwhelmingly negative comments about CCMS from the large-county trial court IT experts surveyed by the Bureau of State Audits in 2011),” the judge wrote.
Dohi said he was “against the status quo” and for “the rapid adoption of every recommendation in the SEC report.”
Centralization, he wrote, has failed to produce “the vast economies of scale its architects promised” and “has instead yoked the entire branch to a series of disastrous policies which have drained our coffers and sapped our credibility with the other branches of government.”
The AOC, he said, has devolved into “an agency which features needless scholars in residence and lawyers telecommuting from overseas; which has a house media organ that wastes money on pro-AOC news stories and steadfastly ignores dissenting voices; which stonewalls any attempt at reform; which lobbies the Legislature against positions supported by many, if not most, of the state’s bench officers; which can’t even give us a ballpark figure as to how many people it employs.”
Dohi acknowledged that the AOC does some things well, like judicial education.
“But our court just laid off its juvenile traffic referees...,” he wrote. “We’ve cut back on court reporters for many civil proceedings, which means that poorer litigants are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to appealing adverse rulings. If we could have saved some of those jobs on the front lines by redirecting AOC funding, even funding for judicial education, we should have done it. Hearing cases is our business. Support functions, including judicial education, simply have to take a back seat to line operations.”
The courts, he said, should “send a message to the Legislature and to the public that we own up to the mistakes of the past and that we commit ourselves to making drastic changes” before they find themselves “taping a giant ‘Kick Me Harder; sign to our backs and dancing directly in front of the Legislature’s shod right foot.”
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company