SAN FRANCISCO - Divisions within the association representing 2,000 California judges resulted in a neutral position on an Assembly bill that would return fiscal and policy autonomy to local trial courts, but debate among the judges revealed a strong consensus on changing the way the court system is governed at the top level.
"There was really no discussion about either supporting or opposing the bill, said Judge Michael Vicencia. "We were just too divided."
The judges belonging to the California Judges Association did agree that deep changes need to be made on how the state's judicial branch is run.
A motion passed Friday said a recent survey of the judges revealed "a passionate and dedicated membership who, while split on how governance issues are addressed, agree overwhelmingly that changes in judicial branch governance are mandated."
The survey results and 120 pages of corresponding comments from 877 judges who answered the survey were at the forefront of Friday's discussions in the desert resort of Indian Wells. The survey showed that almost two thirds of the judges are displeased with the judicial leadership's management of the court system's administrators.
The individual comments were not released based on a promise of confidentiality to those answering the survey. "CJA will use the comments and the continuing dialog it started to present specific, detailed, and thoughtful recommendations to the Chief, Judicial Council, its membership, and the public," said the motion passed by the judges.
One Los Angeles judge who serves on the CJA executive board said discussion of Assembly bill 1208 was collegial. The bill sponsored by Assembly member Charles Calderon (D-Montebello) is intended to shift the balance of power from the Administrative Office of the Courts into the hands of local judges.
"On the issue of what to do with AB 1208, the debate was very respectful and very honest and very frank," said Judge Vicencia who works in Los Angeles Superior Court. He added that the survey results were so close 47 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed that the board could not take an official stance on the bill.
In the last month, controversy arose over a lobbying effort against the bill by CJA's president, Judge Keith Davis of San Bernardino. Davis has said he was visiting Calderon in his personal capacity. Davis did not immediately return a call for comment regarding the CJA board's neutral position.
Vicencia said Friday's discussion instead turned to how to address the judges' survey comments, which he said generally reflected disapproval with the oversight of the Administrative Office of the Courts by the California judicial branch's highest body, the Judicial Council.
"Any fair reading of the survey shows pretty significant dissatisfaction with the way the Judicial Council oversees the AOC and the way the Judicial Council is made up and the Judicial Council's relationship to various courts. We had lots and lots of comments on those very issues, and it comes to us at the same time the Chief Justice is saying, 'I want to hear about these kinds of things.' Our concentration is now on that."