SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – In carrying out her review of the judicial branch’s 1,100-employee bureaucracy, California’s Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in an interview Monday, “It has to be stressed that the AOC is a service entity, not a control entity.”
She added that she is looking for opinions from all quarters. “In every speech I give, I always ask if you have any issues, please let me know,” said the chief justice.
To overhaul the Administrative Office of the Courts, the chief said she plans to “find out from trial courts what services they absolutely need, and what might be expendable.”
A poll conducted last week among 2,000 of the state’s trial judges revealed that almost two thirds of the judges are critical of the judicial leadership’s oversight of its administrative corps. Individual comments paint a picture where the administrators have come to dominate policy.
While Cantil-Sakauye clearly supports an overhaul of the administrative office, she is staunchly opposed to a bill introduced in the state legislature that would require a change in the balance of power between local courts and the centralized bureaucracy.
Last week, the California Judges Association poll showed a majority favor AB 1208, authored by Assembly member Charles Calderon (D-Montebello). The bill is meant to reign in the AOC and ensure that trial courts remain independent of a bureaucracy that was greatly expanded in power and size by Ronald George, the former chief justice.
“I think a bill introduced 47 days into my administration because of 25 years of discontent with George is not fair,” Cantil-Sakauye said.
Last weekend, the executive board of the CJA took a neutral position on the proposed legislation, on the grounds that its membership is too divided. However, it still remains to be seen whether the organization will take up a push by some members to ask Calderon to defer action on the bill until the end of the year.
“Some people are strongly opposed to even doing that,” said Judge Michael Vicencia of Los Angeles. “I’ve never seen this much controversy over a bill on which we’re neutral.”
On Friday, a CJA executive board member, Judge Socrates Peter Manoukian of Santa Clara, made a motion to recommend that AB 1208 be changed into a two-year bill.
According to Presiding Judge Steve White of Sacramento, no vote was taken on Manoukian’s motion.
“Never was there any vote deferring or making it a two year bill. And if there was a motion, I would have vigorously opposed it and I would have moved that the CJA endorse AB 1208,” said White.
What eventually passed through a unanimous vote was a neutral position on the bill without any two-year language.
Vicencia said he didn’t think Manoukian’s motion would have had much influence on Calderon’s decision whether to delay or defer his bill. “In my experience, legislators rarely take the advice of groups that are neutral on their bill,” Vicencia said.
He also said he was surprised at how much strife the two-year language had caused. “I’m surprised at how much energy was put into something with little practical effect when we were discussing very important issues of branch governance,” said Vicencia.
On the contrary, Judge White said AB 1208 has everything to do with branch governance.
“I think AB 1208 is critically important for ensuring the independence of the trial courts in a statewide judicial system. I also think that reforming governance or addressing governance problems generally is important but 1208 is a part of that. It’s not an either or.”