Court Bureaucracy Coughs Up Numbers on Workers and Pay

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - In the face of massive cuts to California's judicial budget, the central court bureaucracy still employs 988 workers, according to a list provided after months of requests. The full number includes highly paid "temporary" workers such as testers paid $50 an hour to work on an IT system that trial court judges compare to the sinking Titanic.

     The number of workers has political importance because legislators have criticized the enormous growth in the Administrative Office of the Courts since the 1990s, when it was a small agency assisting the state's roughly 2,000 judges. Faced with heavy cuts in the state budget announced this summer, trial judges argued that the size of the bureaucracy needs to come down.
     In the face of that political pressure, agency officials have claimed they are reducing staff, an assertion challenged by Judge Kevin McCormick of Sacramento, who has been demanding the list of workers since July. The assertion is also challenged by a group of judges who say the administrative office is still hiring.
      The full list of the so-called temporary employees, who work with high pay but without full benefits, and the list of employees referred to as staff, who have high pay plus benefits, totals 988. The administrative office did not release the employee lists from earlier years, as also requested by McCormick.
     This disclosure comes on the heels of repeated statements by administrative office officials that it employs no more than 877 staff and that a hiring freeze is in place. A request for a proposal for a new director of the administrative office shaded that number down further by saying the office has "a staff of more than 750."
     "We have been shrinking," interim director Ron Overholt told the Judicial Council at its July meeting. "You've heard somehow that we're on a wild hiring spree. We haven't gone on a spree at all."
     McCormick dryly replied, "His perception of the AOC as shrinking is inconsistent with the documentation the AOC provided me."
     "I think that while the number of full time and part time employees is accurate, it's misleading to suggest that's the total number of people employed by the AOC," McCormick continued. "They've significantly increased their actual number of people paid by or though the AOC by hiring independent contractors and significantly increasing the number of temporary employees on the payroll."
     The administrative office has had difficulty with its representation of other key figures in the course of the year.
     A report from the state auditor in February chided the administrative office for misrepresenting the enormous cost of IT system, called the Court Case Management System, to the Legislature.
     State auditor Elaine Howle said the office's annual reports "did not inform decision makers about the true cost of the statewide case management project. When asked by the Legislature in August 2010 what the true cost of the project will be upon its completion, AOC officials cited a figure of $1.3 billion."
     The auditor said the correct number is closer to $1.9 billion.
     In a related matter, a group of trial judges this month called for retraction of a statement made by a spokesman for the administrative office to the Ventura County Star newspaper. The retraction letter from the Alliance of California Judges was addressed to Philip Carrizosa, who speaks for the administrative office.
     "You are represented as stating 'there have been pay and hiring freezes in the Office of the Courts, along with no cost-of-living pay increases in the last four years'," said the letter. "As we have reviewed copies of the 'temporary worker' lists and contract employee list we have reason to believe this statement is also inaccurate."
     The judges point to an October 2010 retroactive pay raise of 3.5 percent for roughly eight out of 10 administrative office employees. "Your suggestion that the AOC has not brought on new and additional staff and that their pay has remained stagnant is at best misleading," the judges wrote. "We are requesting you immediately correct these misleading and inaccurate statements."
      The full list sent to McCormick last week shows that the administrative office employed 110 temporary staff from the Apple One temp agency, as of August. The rates of pay for staff employees and temporary are hefty across the board, ranging up to $18,000 a month, or $216,000 a year, with a full 22 percent pension payment on top for the agency's director, to $102.51 an hour, or $212,000 a year with no pension for a programmer.
     A temporary human resources worker bills $80 an hour or $166,000 a year.
     A temporary "area facility analyst," a job that is not further defined but pays handsomely, bills $51 an hour or $106,000 a year.
     Adding heat to an ongoing fire, a set of temporary "testers" for the frequently criticized and ridiculed Court Case Management System bill $49 to $53 an hour, roughly $104,000 a year.
      In 2011 alone, the AOC entered into 56 contracts for highly paid workers for technology projects, including the CCMS.
     A large portion of the funds used to pay for those contracts have come from the Trial Court Trust Fund, a fund that many judges assert should be used to keep trial courts running, not for a technology project on the road to becoming a fiasco.
     More than $12 million has been taken from that fund for contracts tied to CCMS in this year alone, and many of those contracts are scheduled to expire next year. The administrative office wants the Legislature to provide an additional $74 million for the project as part of next year's budget.
     The constant drain of tens of millions of dollars from the court budget for the IT project has infuriated a wide range of trial judges, with an overwhelming number of judges in the California Judges Association saying that they are dissatisfied with the supervision of the project.
     At that group's annual meeting in Long Beach last weekend, judges were grabbing T-shirts that depicted the Titanic tilting down into the Atlantic with the letters CCMS printed across the image.