SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - In a wide-ranging interview last week, California's new Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said she plans to do a "top to bottom review" of the judicial branch's administrative agency. She said she was a trial court judge and supports flexibility and local control by the trial courts.
Cantil-Sakauye who has been on the job about 80 days said she wants to conduct a full evaluation of the Administrative Office of the Courts, the agency that oversees California's 58 trial courts stretching from San Diego in the south to Del Norte County in the far north of the state.
"There needs to be a top to bottom evaluation of the AOC," said the chief. "I want to get to the heart of whether the AOC is bloated."
She said she has put together a group of retired justices and judges to evaluate "how the AOC works, whether it has too many staff and how we can be better."
"The AOC doesn't need to do all the things it does, it seems to me," she added.
Cantil-Sakauye was sworn into office on January 3, after the former chief justice, Ron George, suddenly announced his retirement last July, handing off a judicial branch enmeshed in a dire budget crisis, contention between state trial judges and judicial bureaucrats over court governance and a troubled court computer project that the state auditor recently revealed to be in danger of failure.
One of the more difficult and immediate issues facing the chief will be how to proceed with the IT project, called the Court Case Management System. Many trial judges have complained that the administrative agency is trying to push the inefficient and enormously expensive system onto the local courts.
Cantil-Sakauye said in an interview last Thursday that while she believes the project is a good idea, she is not in any hurry.
"I think the vision I have about CCMS is a shared vision, emphasis on the word vision, that the idea is a tremendously positive idea, but its future is uncertain because of the audit and understandably so, with very alarming findings," she said.
"Ideally my vision for CCMS is extremely cautious and limited. I understand that soon the final software product will be developed but there are a myriad of issues surrounding the cost and feasibility of deployment," said the chief. "All I would like is to see that the courts that want it can move forward and cautiously deploy to those courts that want it. That's about as ambitious as I am about CCMS right now."
In her two months as California's top judge, Cantil-Sakauye has weathered an ongoing barrage of criticism over the administrative office's policies and priorities. The chief's cancellation of her State of the Judiciary speech also drew the focus of some judges who found it unusual.
"At the time," said the chief justice, "the legislature was deep into the budget. I felt that it would really be cumbersome and difficult for legislators to attend and I don't want my state of the judiciary to be only about the budget. I honestly feel as the first ethnic minority female judge that I want to talk about more than the budget."