[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text](CN) California's legislative analyst has called for the state judiciary to exert more control over local trial courts and in so doing put his hand into a hornet's nest of controversy, with reactions from the chief justice, trial judges and legislators spanning caution, alarm and fury.
The legislative analyst concluded that individual trial courts are doing a worse job in controlling costs than the central bureaucracy. At the same time, the report also said the central bureaucrats should provide an accounting of what they do because there appears to be redundancy and waste.
"It is absolutely absurd," said Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon (D-Montebello), who objected that the report does not consider all the accusations of reckless spending by the central Administrative Office of the Courts. "It is major fecal matter of the bull variety."
"I think they misunderstand that we are a third branch of government," said Sacramento's soon to be presiding Judge Lauri Earl. She said the report reflected naivete about California's judicial branch..
"We are concerned that the report not be interpreted to put more centralized control of the courts in the hands of the AOC," said Judge David Lampe of Kern County. "That model has been a failure it puts the goose in charge of feeding the chickens."
"The Legislative Analyst Office report has appropriately engendered much discussion within the branch," said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, adding that her focus remains on funding for California's courts.
The report suggested that in keeping with the unifying goals of 1997 Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act, the state should assume more control over trial court employee classification and benefits. Individual courts currently manage their own personnel matters.
"By giving individual courts complete control over all employee-related issues, we find that enacted legislation did not go far enough in providing the state sufficient control and oversight over these significant costs," says the report. It was issued with little fanfare last week but has been gathering a coat of controversy since then, with a press release from the chief justice on Friday and Calderon's tirade this week.
"For example," said the report, "the state and individual trial courts lack complete control over the retirement and health benefits being provided to some court workers, and there are indications that trial courts have not effectively bargained costs in their negotiations with trial court employees."
The author, Drew Soderborg, said his office did not support bringing the trial courts under a giant umbrella of centralization.
"We don't envision that the AOC would take a lot of responsibilities from the trial courts," said the analyst. "There could be instances where it's found that trial courts should be more responsible."
Soderborg said the report was self-initiated by the Legislative Analyst's Office and not requested by the Legislature.
"I'd been working on it off and on over a period of three years," he said. "When we started looking into it, it had been in place for about 10 years and my director suggested this might be something we want to look into."
But Calderon did not buy the idea that the report just happened to show up in the midst of a bitter power struggle between local trial courts and the overarching bureaucracy.