New Boss of Court Bureaucracy| Carries Burden of Hope

     (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.
     All the while, the AOC continued to take enormous hits to its budget and slams from the Legislature over its technology initiatives, top-heavy perks and repeated pay raises for the staff while trial courts throughout California were laying off hundreds of workers. With the agency mired in criticism, the council decided this summer to rebrand the Administrative Office of the Courts as simply “the staff.” About the same time, director Jahr announced his retirement and a search began for his replacement began, resulting in Hoshino’s selection this fall.
     “The Governor and the Department of Finance gets that there has been very poor management of the Judicial Council and that resources have not been marshaled smartly and courts have been short changed in favor of Judicial Council programs,” said Judge White. “The fact that Martin Hoshino has been installed as administrative director will not change that. The governor gets that. Martin understands it too. It will have to be by Martin making changes long overdue, restructuring and re-purposing the Judicial Council staff so they are consistent with the mission of the courts. If he does that the Judicial Council will have credibility again.”
     “I assume the Judicial Council in hiring him knew they were getting someone who is respected by Department of Finance, the governor and the Legislature,” the judge warned. “If they assumed that based upon that respect he could just re-brand what they’re already doing, and that the Legislature and the governor would increase the judiciary’s budget, they’re sorely mistaken.”

Folsom Born
     Born in 1964, Martin Nolan Hoshino spent the first part of his life in Folsom, the city that holds California’s second oldest prison, the subject of legend and song. “Inmates spent most of their time in the dark behind solid boiler plate doors in stone cells measuring 4 feet by 8 feet with 6 inch eye slots. Air holes were drilled into the cell doors in the 1940s, and the cell doors are still in use today,” said a history from the California’s Department of Corrections.
     Hoshino graduated in 1986 from Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon with a degree in political science and received his masters degree in public administration and political science from UC Davis. But hours of research revealed no further biographical information about Hoshino, not even a resume. His early life remains a cipher.
     His career in state government started with the Office of the State Controller, where he worked as an analyst and project manager in the late 1980s. Recruited by White, he moved over to the Office of the Inspector General, an independent office established by the Legislature to address complaints of widespread abuse in California’s prison system.
     He became chief assistant inspector general in 2000 but left in 2003, the same year that White left. Hoshino took a job within the bureaucracy of the prisons and moved up until he was in charge of operations for that nation’s biggest incarceration system with 34 prisons, a staff of 60,000 and a budget of $10 billion.
     The product of anti-crime campaigns from decades past in California, state institutions were stuffed with prisoners serving long, legislatively-set prison terms, often for drug offenses and other non-violent crimes. The crowding and lack of medical care brought a series of civil rights actions beginning in the late 1990s that resulted in reform orders from federal judges. Over the decades, the enormous expense of the prisons contributed to a change in public opinion that resulted in last month’s passage of Proposition 47 reducing sentences in California for the first time in a quarter-century. The measure reduces nonviolent crimes like shop lifting, forgery, and grand theft from felonies to misdemeanors. The result is that roughly 10,000 inmates are eligible for sentence reductions and early or immediate release.
     The reform litigation was handled by a number of lawyers, including Donald Specter with the Prison Law Office in Berkeley. He said Hoshino first came onto his grid when he instituted reforms brought about by the prisoner abuse case Madrid v. Gomez, a 1995 class action. Finding a pattern of excessive force and violence used to control prisoner behavior, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ordered the end of harsh disciplinary practices, as well as the removal of mentally ill inmates from the security housing unit. The task of putting the judge’s order into effect fell to Hoshino.
     “The state had to come up with a plan to reform their policies, their investigations, reform their discipline process and he was pretty much the point person in charge of doing that,” Specter said. “He did it really well, he organized it really well, had a timeline for everything. It was slow, as most things are with the CDCR, but it was effective and it was productive too.”
     Specter added, “In our business, we value honesty and transparency and Martin has both of those qualities and he gets along pretty well with everybody. There’s no personal animosity even when there is disagreement. He’s taken positions on behalf of the state that we’ve disagreed with, but the discussions have always been very professional.”

Upcoming Audit
     While it is too early to tell what kind of changes Hoshino will set in motion in California’s judicial administration, many expect him to trim the staff that has ballooned over the last two decades, partly the result of legislation that centralized local court rules and budget allocations in the Judicial Council. “If he does not trim the staff and refocus it so that it is consistent with the role of the judiciary and primacy of the courts, then the only explanation of that is he’s not being allowed to do his job,” said White.
     The head of California’s judicial branch is the chief justice who chairs the Judicial Council and appoints a large majority of its members. She sets the overall policy of the council and staff and lobbies the governor and Legislature for the court budget.
     Hoshino declined repeated requests from Courthouse News for an interview for this profile. He did speak with reporters at a year-end press briefing held by the chief justice earlier this month. While Courthouse News has been invited to that briefing in the last two years, it was left off the list this year.
     “He likes challenges and he gets this is a huge challenge,” said White. The most imminent challenge is a forthcoming audit of the council staff. Assembly member Reginald Jones Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) pushed for and earlier this year obtained a committee vote authorizing an audit of the council staff by California’s Office of the State Auditor.
     In his February 2014 letter to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the Jones-Sawyer wrote, “Despite several budget cuts, the Judicial Council’s budget grew while funding for trial court operations declined. For example, the Judicial Council’s budget for 2013-2014 is stated at $141.5 million. This is $20.9 million more than was spent in 2011-2012.”
     Among the controversial financial policies that brought criticism from the Legislature were a pension system that rewarded the top 30 employees with another 22% in pension contributions from public funds on top of their salaries, and a pay raise for most of the staff of 3.5 percent in 2010 and another 3.5 percent in 2013, in the heart of California’s financial crisis.
     The Alliance of California Judges threw its support behind the audit, and its members testified forcefully at a Joint Legislative Audit Committee hearing in March 2014. State Auditor Elaine Howle also testified. “There have been reductions in trial court funding over the last three years. Has the AOC’s functions been modified as a result of that? Are there AOC functions that are no longer necessary or overstaffed?” asked Howle. The legislative committee voted unanimously in favor of the audit.
     Hoshino’s number one task is generally described as repairing those frayed relations with the state Legislature. “He is somebody who knows how communicate even in a charged atmosphere,” said reform lawyer Bien, a partner in the San Francisco firm of Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld. “He knows how to gain your confidence, which is done by being transparent and honest.”
     “I’ve been dealing with this case for 30 years now,” Bien added. “I know one person doesn’t make decisions and there are many things that can stand in the way of a public policy change, but Martin was the type of person who would call me with a heads up and say, ‘I want to tell you about what’s going on and why we may have some challenges.’ I might get angry or upset but the difference was he was straightforward, he was not hiding information.”
     Referring to the Judicial Council, Bien added, “I think that that one of the challenges that agency has and they lost a lot of political capital in this. I think he can great them going on the right track again.”

Hope’s Burden
     That hope is shared by many but it is laced with caution.
     The council staff changed its name but the staff stayed the same. The controversial technology committee responsible for a half-billion-dollar software fiasco changed its name but its leadership stayed the same. In recent years, the bureaucratic edifice of the council has withstood fierce gusts of criticism from the legislative and executive branches of California government, voluminous internal recommendations for reform and waves of scorching surveys from the trial court officials, along with the extraordinary rise of a 500-judge organization primarily dedicated to taming the bureaucracy, cutting it down to size and bringing democracy to the process of selecting council members. Through it all, the bureaucracy has changed little.
     “In my experience with him, he gets what the organization is supposed to do,” said White. “He gets what the Constitution and statutes contemplate and intend, and then he looks to achieve that in an economical and efficient and credible way. And he has no personal agenda, he is not into self aggrandizement, he is not a power seeker. He is a person who gets the ball over the goal line. In short order, he gained credibility with the Department of Corrections, with the Legislature and with the governor’s office, and he continues to have that kind of respect, which makes him a very valuable asset for the Judicial Council. If they do not let him do his job, they’re squandering that asset and I’m confident he’ll leave. He does not need a job.”

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