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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Courts’ High Bureaucrat Lives|in Sacramento for Job in San Francisco

(CN) - Long after ascending to the top ranks of the Administrative Office of the Courts, former lobbyist Curt Child is still living in Sacramento, supervising over 100 employees from afar and billing taxpayers for travel to meetings at the AOC's headquarters in San Francisco.

"Billing for hotels and trips in the city he's supposed to be working in, maybe that isn't the best expenditure of funds," said Judge Kevin McCormick of Sacramento. "His decision to live in Sacramento and be employed in San Francisco shouldn't be to the detriment of the taxpayer."

Child is the bureaucracy's chief operating officer, a job created in an attempt to reorganize the administrative office after an investigative body of judges found it was "top-heavy and unwieldy" and lacked proper oversight, communication and employee supervision.

A job description posted on the AOC's website says the chief operating officer "oversees and directs the day-to-day operations of the Administrative Office of the Courts and services provided to the judicial branch including court programs, educational services and facilities management."

Of the 223 employees Child supervises, 185 live in San Francisco, according to a list of employee locations compiled by the administrative office in February.

Five are heads of divisions and must report to him directly, and four of them work in San Francisco where the AOC's headquarters are located in the State Building on Golden Gate Avenue directly across from the federal court building. The remaining administrative office employees work in Sacramento and Burbank, where the AOC also has offices.

Child, who was tied up in meetings in San Francisco, could not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Copies of his travel expense reports shows he was reimbursed $813 in November and December 2013 for trips "en route to San Francisco" and "en route to Sacramento." Most of the trips are for staff meetings, but in one instance it was also to attend former Chief Justice Ronald M. George's book signing at U.C. Berkeley.

The charges, in order of cost, were for hotel stays, meals, tolls and parking. For example, Child billed $203 in lodging, meals and parking for what he listed as "Staff meetings and attend Chief Justice Ronald George Book Signing."

"Why should we get billed for a meeting that's part of your job?" McCormick asked. "It's the same sort of attitude of not being careful with the limited resources we have in the judiciary."

The judge also noted that as a top executive hired after 2012, Child is one of a select group of high AOC bureaucrats whose pension contributions are also picked up entirely by the taxpayer. His annual salary is $193,590, second only to the AOC's Director and Chief of Staff, who each make around $211,000.

But for McCormick and other trial judges urging the state legislature to take up an audit of the bureaucracy, it's not just about the money, but the perception that the over 100 employees under Child are not being properly supervised.

"He's a supervisor for 180 people that work out of San Francisco. He needs to be in San Francisco almost all the time. It should be a priority to be where his people are," McCormick said. "You know your boss is going to be there 15 percent of the time. There's a good chance you won't even see him. It sends a message from the very top down that coming to work isn't apart of your necessary obligation."

State lawmakers also spend time away from their constituents and bill taxpayers for trips to and from Sacramento, but are required to keep a residence in their districts. McCormick said for Child, it's about choice.

There has long been criticism of the AOC's spending on raises, high salaries, pension contributions for top executives, expensive outside counsel and a massive statewide computer project that was axed in 2012.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee is scheduled to vote on March 12 on an audit request from Assembly member Reginald Jones-Sawyer.

In a letter to the committee, the assembly member wrote, "The Judicial Council and the AOC are responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars annually. As the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst's Office do not currently receive a detailed annual budget for the Judicial Council or AOC, there exists no mechanism to ensure accountability of public funds with which it is entrusted."

He added, "In 2009, the Judicial Council responded to the state budget crisis by authorizing an unprecedented statewide closure of courtrooms, effectively closing courtrooms that managed to keep their doors open during the Great Depression. Since 2009, our trial courts have lost over 2,500 employees and 80 courthouses have been closed. During the same period, the Judicial Council expended hundreds of millions of public dollars on a computer project that will never be used as intended."

McCormick said the importance of Child's continued residence in Sacramento isn't to single him out, but to shed light on systemic flaws in the bureaucracy that an audit could help fix.

"Things like this show that perhaps the manner in which the AOC spends money isn't efficient for the taxpayers," McCormick said.

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