Advice on Replacement Follows Departure of AOC Director
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The director of California's court bureaucracy Steven Jahr quit on Tuesday, days after the agency abandoned its name as Administrative Office of the Courts. A group of trial judges said choosing another insider committed to the status quo as his replacement would prove "disastrous."
"First, by itself, the new name changes nothing," said the Alliance of California Judges, a group of roughly 500 judges. "Second, the AOC mushroomed from an 18-member support team in 1961 into a hulking bureaucracy of over 1,100 employees in 2012 without constitutional, statutory, or regulatory authorization."
The name change announced Friday was seen by some judges as a harbinger of director Steven Jahr's departure. At the Judicial Council meeting announcing the name change, Jahr was unusually freewheeling in his expression, saying, "Retiring the name AOC will produce a perceptual change, or perhaps a cultural change. Yet under the substantive law, it makes no change at all. The name is superfluous."
In a statement this morning, Jahr said he had been planning to retire since last fall, and told Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye that he would stay until "sometime after the state budget was signed by the governor."
Earlier this year, lawmakers directed the Bureau of State Audits to investigate the Judicial Council and its staff. A report from the State Auditor is expected in October.
A statement from Judicial Council staff said Jahr had been brought out of retirement as a trial judge to lead the administrative office "during a time of transition." His predecessor, William Vickrey, left the AOC in September 2011 amid mounting controversy over the agency's spending practices and a $500 million court technology project that judges and state legislators deemed a failure.
Jahr's retirement was rumored for many months, and names floated for his successor ran the gamut from retired Los Angeles judge Terry Friedman, to former Democratic State Senator Joe Dunn, who is now Executive Director of the California State Bar.
Friedman was a Judicial Council insider and champion for the $500 million computer project called the Court Case Management System. Dunn was seen as a conciliatory choice, who could help repair the former AOC's reputation with the legislature. Dunn also helped broker a deal in 2011 to help fund the CCMS project through a private donor, but the deal fell through.
Jahr's announcement was sent to the state's presiding justices, presiding judges and head clerks, but its trial judges were left off the email list.
"The resignation of another AOC Director and a name change will not help the judicial branch," said Judge Runston Maino of San Diego. "What we need is true reform and that means a more democratic judicial council."
The Alliance group of judges issued a statement Tuesday saying it hoped the next director would be an outsider.
"Once again, the Chief Justice and Council will have a chance to either improve matters, or ensure further degradation of confidence, more budget difficulties and greater strife. This time, there can be no mistakes," said the Alliance. "Choosing yet another insider with a dogged devotion to the status quo will prove disastrous. Everyone is watching us. We need new ideas, new blood, and a realization that democratization of the Council selection process is the only real road to honest reform."
It took the Judicial Council's search committee a year to select Jahr as Vickrey's replacement after a nationwide search, but Cantil-Sakauye said the agency will have a new director in place by the time Jahr leaves in September. "We are all deeply grateful that Steve agreed to come out of his first retirement to help the Judicial Council as we initiated our reforms," Cantil-Sakauye said.