(CN) - A new controversy has erupted within California's judiciary over a judge's question on whether the administrative bureaucracy is planning to pay expenses for judges attending a judicial conference that has become an important political venue.
Retired Los Angeles Judge Charles Horan made the following email request for information from the Administrative Office of the Courts: "I have been told that the AOC will reimburse for up to $300 for appellate justices to attend the next CJA conference. Is that true?"
Horan also asked if the same applied for trial judges and who had authorized the payments.
The California Judges Association is the oldest and biggest of California's judge associations. Its annual conference has become a front in the larger conflict over the bureaucracy's effort to exert central control over the policy, operations and financing of local trial courts.
So a move by the bureaucracy to pay certain judges for attending could be seen through a skeptical lens as an effort to influence the proceedings.
While on its face a simple question, Horan's request was quickly forwarded by administrative office employee Chad Finke to Appellate Justice Harry Hull who has a policy of requiring that all requests for information by submitted through the U.S. Post Office.
"The AOC is funneling all the problem children over to Justice Harry Hull," said Horan in an interview. "When they stand up and ask for peace in the valley and say we should turn the page, they should look in the mirror and ask themselves why they are playing these games."
The administrative office argued that the requests for information are time consuming and require research.
Horan answered, "Ninety percent of the work generated by information requests results from the gymnastic contortions the AOC and some Council members put themselves through trying to avoid answering simple questions."
Hull said his policy requiring that questions be asked by letter sent through the hand-carried mail is necessary to provide accountability.
"For certain requests, I have insisted that the requesting judge make the request to me by standard mail over the judge's signature rather than by e-mail for purposes of accountability and to avoid a later claim that the judge did not make the request," he wrote in an email.
"I base this in part on 40 years of practice in both criminal and civil litigation," he added. "It 'makes the record' and leaves no room for claims of tampering with the message or false authorship which e-mail allows for. With his or her signature, the judge owns the letter and the message and cannot later claim to the contrary."
In a letter to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Horan addressed that point.
"We all know, or should by now, that email provides an everlasting and wholly accurate record for both sender and recipient," he wrote. "U.S. mail is slow, and provides no verifiable record at all. Justice Hull's only stated reason for insisting on U.S. mail is not grounded in this reality, and his practice is apparently due to something else altogether."