(CN) - Assembly member Reginald Jones-Sawyer on Tuesday asked the Legislature to audit the 800-strong, San Francisco-based bureaucracy of California's courts as well as the agency's boss, the Judicial Council.
"I have a myriad of things that I want an outside audit to look at so we can stop rearranging the chairs on the Titanic," said Jones-Sawyer in an interview.
Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat, heads the budget subcommittee on public safety that recommends the overall budget for California's courts, a budget that has been subject to massive cuts in recent years. The assembly member requested an audit of the Administrative Office of the Courts, the controversial and powerful bureaucracy that sits over the local courts, by filing a letter with the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
Prior to sending the letter, Jones-Sawyer had been receiving visits and boxes of information from administrative office officials.
He said the first ever independent and outside audit will be aimed at the budgets of the Administrative Office of the Courts and the governing Judicial Council to make sure the agency and its leadership are making the most of every dollar.
"This is not a punitive or 'I got you' audit. There are a lot of people that have a lot of beliefs and an independent audit will put to bed what is really happening," Jones-Sawyer said. "The audit will help me find out a better way of spending the money. It's not about people making assumptions, it's about answering questions."
The audit was welcome news for state trial judges who have been meeting with Jones-Sawyer since budget hearings concluded last year.
"This all comes down to transparency," said Judge Susan Lopez-Giss in Los Angeles. "This is what we want to see, if in fact the money that is being allocated is being used in the appropriate way and maximized so that courthouses can stay open."
Judge Steve White in Sacramento said the priority for the use of public money should be the funding of the courts themselves that resolve the disputes and perform the many legal functions that affect the lives of Californians.
"If there ever as an operation that screamed out for an audit, it's the continued current level of funding for the administrative operations of the branch, the AOC and the Judicial Council," said White. "Neither the legislature or the Department of Finance has any clear understanding of how the AOC administers its funding internally.
If the legislative audit committee accepts Jones-Sawyer's request, the audit will be conducted by State Auditor Elaine Howle, who three years ago found extensive fault with the AOC's mismanagement of a massive statewide software project for the courts, called the Court Case Management System.
Trial judges for years had attacked the enormous amounts of public funds -- totaling more than a half-billion dollars -- being spent on the software project, while the courts were in the middle of a financial crisis. The Judicial Council pulled the plug on the CCMS project in 2012.