California Judicial Council Rearranges Itself

     (CN) - California's Judicial Council on Thursday set up a system to give it more oversight of its vast network of advisory committees, task forces and working groups.
     By unanimous vote, the council established new procedures for almost 50 groups.
     "Under the leadership of the Chief Justice, The Judicial Council has been examining itself and its processes. We are doing this to improve the council's accountability and transparency to the public, the branch, and the two other branches of government," said Justice Douglas Miller, head of the council's powerful Executive and Planning Committee.
     Under the new standards, the smaller groups must report to bigger internal committees such as Executive and Planning and get approval before launching new projects or creating their own subgroups.
     The structure of these groups is also under review. In a report to the council, Miller recommended merging some groups and dissolving others.
     "Although we have accomplished a significant amount of work in the past few months, as always there seems to be more to do," he said. Miller said his committee will work on specific guidelines to address the purpose of each group, their make-ups, duration, project timelines and how many Administrative Office of the Courts staffers they should have.
     "We all agree this is an ongoing process and something that we will all have in the forefront of our minds," said Justice Harry Hull, council member and chairman of the council's Rules and Projects Committee, which will also oversee certain groups.
     "Obviously, the work of the advisory committees and task forces is not static. So I think this is something that we can address as needed and continue to work towards the efficiencies and cost-cutting measures," Hull said.
     At the meeting, the council heard reports from members on recent court visits, as part of a liaison program started last year.
     While some courts expressed concerns about budget cuts and delayed courthouse construction projects, Judge Teri Jackson of San Francisco reported that some San Mateo judges peppered her with questions about the makeup of the council, and why its members are not chosen democratically.
     "One of the judges raised the issues about whether members could be voted on to the council. I explained that requires a constitutional amendment. More importantly, that is the constitutional authority of the chief justice," Jackson said.
     She said another judge asked how many council members belong to the Alliance of California Judges, a reformist judges group, and whether a formal Alliance seat could be established, as it is with the California Judges Association.
     Jackson said she told the judge that members belong to dozens of organizations.
     "Those were some of the issues raised by individual judges, not necessarily the reflection of all the other judges on the commission," Jackson said.
     In her report on a recent visit to Ventura, Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst relayed that court's struggles with its case management system for family law and juvenile dependency cases.
     "They noted that their system has crashed several times and they feel that there's a risk of it crashing permanently," she said.
     Ventura is one of two courts that requested an expansion of the V3 edition of the Court Case Management System. The other one is San Diego.
     Ashmann-Gerst said the court is considering buying an off-the-shelf product or working on a solution with other courts.
     Last year, the council terminated the latest V4 project, but retained funding for maintenance of V3.
     Judge James Herman of the council's Court Technology Committee said the proposed expansion falls under maintenance.
     "As council members will recall, in July 2012 the Legislature directed the branch to spend no more funds on V4 without the approval of the Legislature. None have been expended. However, the Legislature also directed the council to continue to maintain V-3," Herman said.
     The three other V3 courts, in Sacramento, Orange County and San Joaquin County, are wary about expanding V3.
     "Those courts have expressed strong reservations about case type expansion, based on the view the effort might divert staffer resources from maintenance of V-3," Herman said.
     Herman said his committee hasn't reached a decision yet, and is waiting for more information from the courts, expected next week.