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Borg’s Way

In Star Trek, attempts to resist The Borg become one of the central themes, with many examples of successful resistance from assimilation targets.

I had always thought in our wide-ranging battle for press access in California's state courts that we could appeal to the Judicial Council.

I presumed, not understanding the assmilating power of the Borg, that the council stood above the Administrative Office of the Courts. The higher body would determine policy and the lower body would execute policy.

Indeed, the names suggest as much. continued

The title Judicial Council brings to mind a group of judges in a council to make policy decisions. While the title Administrative Office of the Courts quite literally suggests an agency that administers those decisions.

But, like much in the land of the Borg, the bounds of power and reason do not hold.

Because I have heard employees of both the council and the administrative office say they work as one. And they say clearly that they have but one boss. That boss is Bill Vickrey, head of the administrative office. Judges who have served on the council confirm that upside down world of the two bodies where power lies with the administrators.

There is a history to all this, of course.

As longtime legislator Charles Calderon noted in an article on this page by Maria Dinzeo, it was not always thus. "There was no bureaucracy," said Calderon who served on the council in the 1990's.

The court administrative office of today, with more than a thousand employees, is largely the creation of the former chief justice, Ronald George, who was an ambitious administrator and an adept politician.

"Ron George looked out for the AOC, and the AOC looked out for Ron George," a judge who knows both told me. It is the AOC That Ron Built, if you will, an administrative Taj Mahal.

When she walked through that impressive facade of bureaucracy and power, the new chief justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, could not know that she was in fact stepping into a booby-trapped cabin.

Because the administrative office has built up a remarkable set of enemies over the years, both local administrators and judges, some dating back years and some quite new to their familiarity with the administrative office and the council and all its committees and subcommittees.

The two principal complaints are that the administrative office seems to prize politics and cant over know-how and practicality, and it uses under-handed tactics to enforce its will.

A former presiding judge in Los Angles, Stephen Czuleger, was an early voice on the Judicial Council urging caution in the vast expenditures on an IT project, called the California Case Management System or CCMS.

But his urging was met with a campaign of vilification.

"Judges around the state called to report to me that Vickrey was going around the state lying about me and my court, especially about CCMS. Bill was obviously uncomfortable with my raising questions about CCMS and I grew weary of his efforts to discredit those concerns," said Czuleger in a letter to Justice Terence Bruiniers who has been a lead defender of the IT project.

The cost of that troubled project has ballooned to $1.9 billion. In the scramble to defend it, the administrative office hired a private consultant, the English accounting firm of Grant Thornton, which two weeks ago published a favorable cost benefit analysis relying, as we have reported, on a set of fantastic assumptions.

The state auditor answered last week with a critique of the cost benefit analysis, saying it understated costs, assumed benefits that are in doubt and makes unrealistic assumptions about installing the IT system.

In this week's reply on behalf of the administrators, I was genuinely saddened to see a renewed use of the tactic of "sliming" a fair critic. The fair critic of today is the state's auditor who, in my view, has been the only official voice of reason and clarity on the CCMS boondoggle.

In reply to the auditor's criticism of the cost benefit analysis, Justice Bruiniers sent a long email this week to judges around the state attacking the state auditor and her bureau.

"Within days of the release of the Cost Benefit Analysis, the Bureau of State Audits chose to challenge at least some of the CBA findings. Unfortunately, this was done without any prior notice to or inquiry of the branch. [This critique was being eagerly disseminated by the most strident CCMS critics well before its existence was even disclosed to us.] It is difficult to understand why the BSA would summarily reject a report prepared over the course of several weeks by a recognized international expert," says that email, including the brackets.

In my opinion, those words amount to a clear suggestion that that the state auditor is biased, that is she is rushing to judgment, has the temerity to challenge "an international expert" and that she leaked her findings to the "eager" and "strident" critics.

It is an attack by innuendo. It impugns the motives of the auditor. What disappointed me in that email was that it reminded me of the complaint from Czuleger whose fair criticism years ago about the very same project was met with the very same tactic, an attack on the messenger.

But that, as we are coming to know it, is the way of the Borg.

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