(CN) - Before Martin Hoshino became the new staff boss for California's Judicial Council, he was running the state's enormous prison system under court orders for reform. At one point last year, the governor called a press conference to unilaterally proclaim the reforms "complete," and state lawyers went on the attack against their opponents. One official stayed out of the fray.
"It wasn't done with any notice to the plaintiffs' counsel," said reform lawyer Michael Bien. The governor's surprise announcement was accompanied by a legal blitz from the state that included personal attacks on the reform lawyers, Bien added. "They said we were in it for the money."
"There were a lot of declarations filed in support of those motions by Secretary Jeffrey Beard and other high officials," he continued. "One was noticeably absent. Martin Hoshino. He somehow kept himself out of that and we've always had open communication. He'd given me his cell number and I'd given him mine. He called me during that period and said, 'I can't explain why this happened but I just want to talk.' He was the one person who reached out."
Now, the 50 year-old Hoshino will be leading the 800 employees of the central bureaucracy for California's vast court system, after a long and intense period of budget cuts from the governor and criticism from trial judges and legislators. He is the front man dealing with the judicial committees, the council and the powerful judge at the very top of the heap, Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
"I am digging in," Hoshino said at his first council meeting. "And trying to get a good understanding of the challenges the branch faces. I've been able to introduce myself to virtually every member of the staff. I hope they feel as good about me as I feel about them a year from now, after I've had the luxury of making some zero-sum decisions that affect their workplace and their lives."
Those who have worked with Hoshino over the years said he fixes things in a quiet way. "He's not the kind of person who comes in and lops heads," said Sacramento Judge Steve White. "He sees what needs it and does it in as painless a way as possible. But he will make it happen nonetheless."
White leads the Alliance of California Judges, a group of roughly 500 judges in California that has hammered the central bureaucracy of the courts over spending habits, size and perceived arrogance. White is also Hoshino's former boss. He worked as inspector general for California's prisons and recruited Hoshino to his staff.
Governor Jerry Brown who has cut nearly $1 billion from the court budget in recent years also gave Hoshino high marks. He took the unusual step of commenting on the judiciary's new hire. "Martin did an outstanding job of helping the state manage its prison system during a very difficult period," Brown said. "We'll all miss him."
The council has been looking for a permanent director since the departure of embattled director Bill Vickrey, whose hasty exit in 2011 kicked off a slew of retirement announcements from the AOC's top brass. Retired judge Stephen Jahr took the job after the last-minute withdrawal of several candidates who apparently thought twice about taking a position with so many pitfalls.