Friday, July 12, 2013
AOC Responds to Alliance, Says It Is Cutting Expenses
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Administrative Office of the Courts said yesterday it has been cutting its travel expenses over the past three years.
Responding to criticism from the Alliance of California Judges, as reported in yesterday’s MetNews, the AOC said total expenses for travel by its director and staff members has dropped from $3,889,998 in Fiscal Year 2010-11 to $2,753,041 in FY 2011-12 to $1,967,723 from July 1 2012 to June 20, 2013.
The AOC also provided copies of correspondence between Sacramento Superior Court Judge Kevin McCormick and AOC member Chad Finke
The alliance Wednesday released a communication in which it criticized Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye for what it said was a failure “to ensure greater accountability and transparency” and criticized the AOC for providing 400 pages of raw data”—which it terms a “document dump”—in response to an April inquiry from McCormick as to all “active contracts” the AOC has.
It complained that Finke insisted in a communication of June 10 that the AOC does not “maintain such a list in the regular course of business” and that an October 2011 Judicial Council directive “prevents us from running a custom update for you.”
It also quoted portions of a May 31 letter from McCormick to the AOC in which the jurist questioned the wisdom of spending $911,950 on hotels in 2012—compared to $319,989 in 2010 and less than that in 2011—“at the same time court closures, layoffs and reduced hours at many of our courts were taking place.”
In a response that was emailed to the MetNews Wednesday but arrived too late to be included in yesterday’s report, the AOC included a copy of a June 28 letter from Finke to McCormick, including the overall travel expense figures for the past three fiscal years and explaining the agency’s reasons for not providing the letter of detail that McCormick requested.
Finke, citing a provision of the state court rule on access to judicial branch records, wrote:
“We understand your modified request…to be seeking judicial administrative records showing the total AOC expenditures—regardless of fund source—on lodging expenses for Fiscal Years 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13, for any and all events and attendees, i.e., without limitations such as lodging in connection only with Judicial Council meetings or lodging only for AOC staff. Assuming our interpretation to be correct, assembling the records you have requested would require the manual review of approximately 19,500 Travel and Expense Claims (TECs) submitted during those three fiscal years to (a) identify which contain lodging reimbursement requests, and (b) redact any potentially private or personal information on the TECs. In light of AOC staff shortages in our Business Services unit, undertaking such a review would require us to retain an agency temp employee to perform the work. Given our staff and fiscal resource limitations and the cost inherent in retaining a temporary employee for this purpose, [Administrative Director of the Courts Steven] Jahr has determined that the public interest served by nondisclosure of the judicial administrative records you have requested clearly outweighs the public interest that may be served by the disclosure of those records.”
In providing McCormick with the sum totals for the three years, Finke explained that those figures included, “not only lodging, but also travel and meal reimbursements” and that “our system does not separately track lodging expenses,” which had to be reviewed manually. He also noted that the totals “do not include lodging costs for events that are master billed, such as Judicial Council meetings. “
Finke further advised McCormick:
“As to contracts responsive to your request for certain individual contractors’ salaries and start dates, we will begin our efforts to assemble those records. As noted, we anticipate that assembling these records will take approximately three months. In addition, as we begin assembling those records, we will be back in touch as to any storage retrieval fees that may be required.”
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company