Help Wanted at Top of California Courts

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Judicial Council of California has put out the help wanted sign, looking for a permanent replacement for William Vickrey, who left Friday as the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
     Vickrey leaves amid controversies about the office’s handling of money and its rocky relations with some trial courts, many of which are in severe financial straits and laying off staff.
     “Whoever they get, whether it’s someone who has judicial or other public administration experience, there needs to be an acknowledgment of that disconnect and a change in the culture where the staff at the AOC respond to the concerns of the elected judges as staff should respond to their elected official office,” Judge Robert Dukes of Los Angeles Superior Court said.
     “Whoever it is needs to have that understanding.”
     Dukes pointed to recent survey responses from judges all over the state that expressed wide-ranging and intense criticism of the judiciary’s San Francisco-based, bureaucratic staff.
     A profile of the open position that came with the request for proposal states that the AOC director works under the direction of the Judicial Council and California’s Chief Justice, is in charge of 750 employees at the administrative office. That figure is low and does not account for highly paid contract workers. A full list of those working for the administrative office has still not been provided to a Sacramento trial judge who has been asking for it since July.
     A rudimentary chart that came with the request shows that three regional offices report directly to the AOC director, as do roughly a dozen other sections, including the general counsel and the administrative office’s lobbying arm. The request for proposal says the AOC has an annual budget of more than $3 billion.
     But a complete breakdown of what funds are available and how they are spent has been impossible to obtain by judges or media.
      Vickrey was paid $227,000 a year. The request for proposal does not mention the controversial pension plan that rewards the top 30 officials at the administrative office with a 22 percent, full-ride pension contribution on top of actual pay, a top-loaded system that is outlawed where federal law applies.
     According to the job profile, any candidate for director should “work effectively with the media,” be able to “administer an organization’s budget,” and have “proven success in the management and leadership of technology enhancements of business operations.”
     The office has been feeling the heat from the legislature, the media and some trial courts, over the Court Case Management System, a beleaguered IT technology project that is projected to cost $1.9 billion and remains incomplete roughly ten years after the project was started.
     Recently, CCMS project director Mark Moore said the AOC had requested $74.5 million from the legislature for next fiscal year to fund current work on the project as well as maintenance costs for its two precursor systems.
     Meanwhile, the legislature and the governor have cut fully $600 million from the annual total of $2 billion that was spent on the state’s court system only a couple years ago, according to the plan by L.A. Superior Court to cope with the cuts.
     Vickrey served as the AOC’s director for 19 years, and Ronald Overholt is the interim director. Overholt has served as Chief Deputy Director of the California Courts since 2000.
     Executive search firms were asked to come up with proposals for a national search by October 7, and the Judicial Council is supposed to OK the choice of a search firm within 45 days.

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