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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Chief Reappoints Three to Council

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye made a round of reappointments to the Judicial Council this week, the top policy making body which she heads.

The reappointments are of a long-time member and two fairly recent appointees; Associate Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter, Justice Douglas Miller and Judge Emilie Elias of Los Angeles. Each will now sit on the council for at least three more years.

Both Baxter and Miller chair powerful internal committees, Baxter the council's legislative policy committee and Miller its Executive and Planning Committee. Miller joined the council in 2010; Baxter in 1996, also the year he became head of the legislative committee. Elias sits on the Trial Court Funding Working Group, a committee of judges and government officials currently evaluating how the courts should be funded.

The reappointments by the chief justice come in the midst of a campaign by a reform group of judges who are pushing for the democratic election of council members. They argue that a council headed by the chief and made up mostly of the chief's appointees is unlikely to exercise judgment independent of the courts' central bureaucracy that works under the chief.

All three of the council members who were reappointed are in policy hot seats.

Baxter chairs the Policy Liaison and Policy Committee that endorses proposals for legislation such as a recent trailer bill proposing a host of additional fees to the public, including a prohibitive fee to search public court records that was criticized in the state Senate this week.

Elias is a member of a group that is charged with evaluating how funding is distributed by the Judicial Council to individual trial courts, a subject of contention and concerns that some courts with close ties to the administrative office are favored in that allocation.

Miller chairs the committee that is supposed to put into effect a list of reforms of the Administrative Office of the Courts recommended by a committee of judges that spent a year looking into the bureaucracy criticized for waste of funds, mishandling of a defunct statewide computer project and a "culture of control" that left no say for the state's independent trial judges. Miller has also opened some formerly closed council meetings to the public and started sending council judges on visits to local courts.

The campaign calling for a democratic shake-up of the council has been led by the Alliance of California Judges who say the council members do not represent the interests of the state's trial judges and that elections would hold them accountable to their peers. For example, the council recently and unanimously endorsed telecommuting by the central bureaucrats, despite opposition from the head of the committee that made the reform recommendations, from the presiding judges committee, from the Alliance and from the California Judges Association.

Alliance judges have pointed to that decision and many before it in criticizing the council's pattern of unanimous decisions that follow the recommendations from the administrative office on policies that affect the courts.

"Over the last 15 years, under this dysfunctional form of governance, we have witnessed the doubling in size of the central bureaucracy, the wasting of over $500 million dollars on a failed computer system, the granting of overly generous pension perks to the 30 top paid AOC bureaucrats, the allowance of 'telecommuting privileges' to high paid central office staff--including supervisors, and wasteful construction and maintenance projects, just to name a few," Gilliard said.

"In that same time period we have never witnessed a single instance where these hand picked Council members have ever turned down an AOC staff recommendation," she pointed out. "That fact alone should be a great cause of concern and a rallying cry for reform in light of the historical track record of mismanagement, bloat, and waste."

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