AOC Promotion Appalls Judges

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The promotion of the judiciary’s top lobbyist to a newly created executive position at the central bureaucracy for California’s courts has brought a sharp negative reaction from many of the state’s trial judges.
     On Wednesday, incoming director for the Administrative Office of the Courts Judge Steven Jahr unveiled his choices for the three executives who will be working directly under him, all three coming from the old guard of the AOC.
     Filling the chief of staff position is former regional director Jody Patel. Patel has been the interim AOC director for the past seven months until Jahr’s appointment in August. Her right hand Curt Soderlund will be the new chief administrative officer.
     But the selection of lobbyist Curt Child as the AOC’s chief operating officer has “perplexed” the Alliance of California Judges, a group that has called for widespread reform of the bureaucracy hammered by judges, legislators and the State Auditor for mismanagement of statewide projects, mishandling taxpayer dollars and trying to influence council policy.
     The judges are particularly critical of Child’s promotion, as his office is responsible for slipping an amendment into an under-the-radar trailer bill in the Legislature that would have seized authority from local courts over the selection of their presiding judges and court clerks.
     “The Alliance is not surprised by the promotion of interim director Patel and interim chief deputy director Soderlund as they would otherwise lose their jobs by the closure of the AOC’s regional offices,” said Judge Maryanne Gilliard of Sacramento, an Alliance director. “We are however, perplexed by the promotion of chief lobbyist Curt Child, in light of the fact that either himself or one of his underlings was responsible for the attempt in 2009 by way of an 11th hour trailer bill which would have stripped the local courts of their right to elect their presiding judges and assistant presiding judges.”
     A document sent to the state’s Department of Finance also implicates lobbyist Donna Hershkowitz in the AOC’s alleged scheme to exert direct control over the local trial courts. In an email, Hershkowitz said the AOC revised language drafted by the finance department meant to provide oversight of court budgets. “The AOC made revisions to the language to provide necessary technical assistance to make the language work,” she wrote, attaching the new language deleting the trial court’s authority to select its own presiding judge and clerk.
     An email between Gilliard and Teresa Calvert of the finance department confirms the Administrative Office of the Courts’ direct involvement.
     Judge Jahr said his three selections will strengthen oversight of the bureaucracy as part of a major overhaul and restructuring of the office in response to a highly critical audit by a committee of judges earlier this year. A statement from the bureaucracy on the new hires notes that the executive office has gone from 14 positions to four.
     “These new leadership positions within the AOC’s Executive Office will strengthen oversight of the agency’s diverse areas of responsibility,” said Jahr in a statement.
     The mystery of who was behind the attempted coup of the court has been a subject of inquiry and anger for years among trial judges. At a conference of the California Judges Association in Long Beach last year, questions were shouted out by judges in the audience at a discussion moderator calling for the identity of the orchestrator. The moderator and panelists refused to provide the name.

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