(CN) - In the wake of a state audit criticizing its spending, California's statewide court bureaucracy plans to shut down its Southern California offices in 2017, but rejected moving its headquarters to Sacramento.
Judicial Council staff director Martin Hoshino sent an email to employees Friday, saying that closure of the Burbank office outside Los Angeles will save $10-$12 million over ten years.
The staff in that office has been reduced, Hoshino said, so paying for the space no longer makes sense. But, addressing another bone of contention, he said the headquarters of the bureaucracy formerly called the Administrative Office of the Courts, and now simply the staff of the Judicial Council, will remain headquartered in the heart of downtown San Francisco, next to the federal courthouse.
Hoshino's announcement followed a January audit that questioned spending on office space, and suggested that the bureaucracy look into moving its San Francisco headquarters to Sacramento, the seat of state government. San Francisco real estate is the most expensive in California.
The staff director's given reasons for closing the Southern California office, argued Judge Maryanne Gilliard, are simply a reflection of the decision by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to disregard the auditor's recommendation and keep the administrative offices in San Francisco. Gilliard is a board member for the Alliance of California Judges, a longstanding critic of wasteful spending and questionable policy judgments by the court bureaucracy.
"Any justification is meaningless," said a statement from the Alliance. "This was a result-oriented exercise once the chief justice indicated her opposition to any move."
State Auditor Elaine Howle's January audit highlighted the amounts spent on excess office space and other spending issues including executive perks, a big fleet of cars and trucks, and high salaries. Hoshino, who took over the director's job a few months before the audit's publication, moved quickly to trim the fleet of 66 cars and trucks, and eliminate remaining lavish pension plans for top executives.
In many ways the audit echoed the findings of the Strategic Evaluation Committee, a group of judges appointed by Cantil-Sakauye in 2011 to make sure that the staff was fulfilling its intended purpose of serving the courts without wasting funds.
Like Howle's audit, the SEC report recommended downsizing the staff's offices and moving to cheaper space in Sacramento.
Hoshino took his time with Howle's recommendation, employing a consulting firm to perform a cost-benefit analysis of the move. In his email, Hoshino said, "None of these decisions were made lightly."
"Given the potential impact on our employees' lives as well as on our organization, we required a comprehensive and rigorous analysis," Hoshino said, adding that the firm looked at multiple scenarios, including the payoff of a lease revenue bond at its San Francisco office.
"Looking purely at the fiscal data, potential cost-savings of approximately $10-12 million may be realized over the 10-year period from the consolidation and relocation. The San Francisco location will see the most significant rent savings when the current lease revenue bond is fully paid off in 2021," Hoshino said.
Besides, he noted, keeping the San Francisco office "preserves critical institutional knowledge and maintains service continuity for our customers and clients statewide."
Hoshino's email also said the staff's lobbying arm will permanently relocate to Sacramento from San Francisco by August 2017.
The consulting firm's report should be made public within ten days, Hoshino said. But the Judicial Council still must accept its findings in order for them to be adopted.
The Alliance, on the other hand, suggested that Hoshino's decision to keep the headquarters in San Francisco be rejected. The judges' group has also argued that the governing Judicial Council would make better decisions if its members were elected by California's judges rather than appointed by the chief justice.
"The recommendation to relocate to Sacramento from the State Auditor and the Chief Justice's own Strategic Evaluation Committee should be implemented, with cost savings redirected to the local courts," the Alliance judges said in a statement.
"We call upon the Judicial Council to reject the position of the AOC and instead follow the well reasoned and objective opinions contained within the reports of the State Auditor and SEC committee. A democratically elected Judicial Council is needed if for no reason other than to safeguard the public's funding of its judicial system."
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