Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Page 1


State Judicial Council Approves Retirement of AOC’s Name


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


As expected, the Judicial Council yesterday voted to retire the name of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Under the rule change, approved at a meeting in San Francisco, the agency will henceforth be identified as the Judicial Council staff.

Third District Court of Appeal Justice Harry Hull, chair of the council’s Rules and Project’s Committee, called the change “[a] move that makes a great deal of sense,” in a statement released by the agency.

“For years, there has been confusion over the relationship between the administrative office and the council; that the staff of the council was a separate entity and in some way independent of the council. It’s time to end that confusion,” Hull said. Hull noted that the rule changes “merely retire the name without changing the functions, duties, responsibilities or obligations of the council or its staff.”

Earlier this week, the expected action was questioned in a statement issued by the directors of the Alliance of California Judges, a persistent critic of the AOC.

“The reasons for the change, and for the haste with which it’s being made, remain muddled,” the alliance directors said. “Our branch leaders claim that the change is necessary to eliminate ‘confusion’—although they never specify who is being confused, why the confusion couldn’t be cleared with a simple explanation rather than by suddenly changing the name of a 50-year-old institution, or why the confusion needs to be dispelled now, as opposed to sometime earlier in the budget process when it might have made a difference.”

The alliance also said the council and the AOC had claimed to be separate entities when they were sued by an AOC employee for gender discrimination and wrongful termination. It cited a 2010 declaration under penalty of perjury in which the director of the AOC’s Human Resources Division said the plaintiff was employed solely by the AOC and that “[t]he Judicial Council does not have any employees.”

In other action, the council voted to approve the allocation of $65 million appropriated for trial court facility modifications and planning.

The council also voted to seek $27 million for the design of a new criminal courthouse for the Sacramento Superior Court.

“I’m the eternal optimist. I believed it would ultimately get built,” Presiding Judge Robert Hight told Courthouse News Service Monday.

A statewide budget crisis in 2008 gutted the courthouse construction budget, with the Legislature taking funds set aside for construction projects and redirecting the money to keep standing courthouses open. Dozens of courthouse construction projects ended up on the indefinitely-delayed list.

“When the budget crisis hit, we were ready to proceed with design, construction plans. Then the council delayed this, because there wasn’t any money left in the account,” Hight said.

For the Sacramento courthouse, the process started with a recommendation by the Court Facilities Advisory Committee which then moved to the Policy Coordination and Liaison Committee. Based on a presentation from the chair of the facilities committee, the liaison committee voted unanimously last Thursday to recommend that the full council approve $27 million for blueprints at the next council meeting which is scheduled for Tuesday.

Based on past practice, the council is almost certain to approve what is recommended to it.

Within the council, the Court Facilities Advisory Committee determines the fate of every proposed courthouse project, deciding which one is shelved and which one goes forward.

“We were very sorry to have to put it on the back burner when we did,” said Justice Brad Hill who chairs the facilities committee. “This is certainly a critically needed project and we’re looking forward to getting it on track. Of those that were deferred, it was at the top of the list.”

The liaison committee to which he spoke was open to the press and public as a result of a new Judicial Council rule that opened almost all the council committees to the press and public.

One reason the Sacramento courthouse was first in line for funding was the need for improved security, said the court’s presiding judge.

“We only have one in-custody elevator and it only goes to the 4th floor,” said Hight. “If you have an in-custody matter on the 5th or 6th floor, you have to walk the defendant upstairs and across public halls and it’s just not good for security,” he said.

Judges also currently share an elevator with members of the public. “You’re in there with the defendant’s family and the victim’s family,” said Hight. “Though nothing has happened thus far, sometimes it’s tense.”


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