Virtual Judgeships Re-Allocated by Council
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Changes will come in the allocation of 50 new judgeships after the Judicial Council voted Friday to use updated workload data to assign new judges within California's 58 trial courts.
The council also heard a "no action" item where the central bureaucracy of the courts submitted new guidelines for management of large projects, such as the half-billion-dollar technology fiasco abandoned last year.
The Legislature approved the 50 judgeships in 2007, but they remain unfunded with no sign of when the money will be paid. The council originally distributed the judgeships based on workload data from the time, but at Friday's meeting, the council voted to allocate based on current data.
"I personally think it's unfair to change horses midstream," Judge David Rosenberg of Yolo County said. "The courts have relied on this 50 judge allocation since 2008, so there's been five years of reliance and planning."
In rough terms, a number of small courts lost a judge position while a few big courts gained judges.
"I think a small court can be much more severely impacted than the larger court, said Rosenberg. "For example, losing one judge in a ten or 11-judge court has a very serious impact versus gaining one judge in a court that has 90 or 100 judges."
Under the new plan, courts in Yolo, Butte, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Madera and Monterey counties will no longer receive new judges. And Sacramento, Fresno and Tulare courts will get fewer judges because their workloads have declined compared to other courts.
Courts in Humboldt, Imperial, Sutter, and Ventura counties will get judgeships using the new method, and Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Stanislaus courts will receive more judges than planned.
Judge Mary Ann O'Malley of Contra Costa urged a vote for the updated method, even though her court would be losing a judge.
"As much as I would love to have a plus-one, I don't think it's the right thing," said O'Malley. "There are a lot of people on my bench that would love the plus-one to share the load that has been put upon us by losing valuable commissioners."
She added, "Whatever the newest numbers are that are most relevant to the situation, those should be the numbers that this body accepts and adopts. That is not the easy thing to do. For those of us who have to go back to the courts that were getting judges and may now be losing judges, it is the right thing to do."
At its Friday meeting, the council also heard a report on new guidelines for how the council's staff agency, the Administrative Office of the Courts, will manage large projects.
The change is borne out of criticism of a failed IT project called the Court Case Management System, which was abandoned last year after racking up more than $500 million in bills with more than a billion dollars still to be spent before project completion.
A group of judges called the Strategic Evaluation Committee, who investigated the court bureaucracy at the request of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, issued a report in 2012 that found the AOC had failed to properly manage the CCMS project.
"The AOC's process of planning and monitoring programs and projects has been lacking," the SEC report said. "These deficiencies are best exemplified by the CCMS project with its lack of budgetary planning, failure of budgetary controls, failure to identify a sustaining revenue source, lack of an initial business case analysis and feasibility study, lack of sufficient court commitment, and falure to openly disclose pertinent information about the project."
The new guidelines, written by the AOC and reported to the Judicial Council for its information, are intended to correct some of those failures.
The guidelines require a process for approval of big projects that includes consulting "stakeholders," AOC jargon that includes trial courts, in addition to making accurate cost estimates, and listing "funding streams," more jargon for how the projects will be paid for. The rules also require documentation of how the decisions are made in the process of launching big projects.
"This is something that is near and dear to the heart of the SEC because it grew out of a problem," said Judge Charles Wachob of Placer County, who chaired the Strategic Evaluation Committee. He said the new guidelines "take into account the needs and collaboration of the courts."