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Overholt Quits as Top Court Administrator

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - At an emergency meeting of the Judicial Council Thursday, regional administrator Jody Patel was chosen to replace Ron Overholt as interim director of California's central court bureaucracy.

Overholt quit suddenly on Thursday morning, saying the job has "become a lightning rod for controversy."

Overholt had been in charge of the Administrative Office of the Courts for five months, after working 11 years as deputy director of the agency.

Patel had worked six years as a regional director after working as the head clerk for Sacramento County Superior Court for five years. Before that, she worked in the lobbying office for the AOC.

"The position of Administrative Director of the Courts has become a lightning rod for controversy, impacting the focus on budget discussions, Judicial Council governance of the judicial branch, and the AOC itself," said Overholt in an email sent to the Judicial Council Thursday.

The former head of the bureaucracy, William Vickrey, left in September of last year, after becoming a focus of criticism on a range of issues, including an ambitious and costly IT system that is used in only a few courts. Overholt had served as his deputy for 11 years, and was said to be in the hunt for the director's job on a long-term basis.

In December, the governing Judicial Council chose executive search firm Ralph Andersen & Associates to search for and recruit candidates for the job of director, and is expected to make a recommendation to the Chief Justice the council later this year.

Overholt's departure could take some of the pressure off of the administrative office, which bore the brunt of criticism in floor speeches in the state Assembly before last week's passage of AB 1208, a measure reforming the financial structure of the courts and diminishing the bureaucracy' power.

Overholt said he will stay on long enough to help the new interim director get settled.

"In the anxiety-generating climate of this fiscal crisis, the AOC's role in serving the council to advance access to justice on a statewide basis has unfairly become an easy target," said his email of resignation. "Every organization has room for improvement, and where merited, the AOC has taken corrective action and is continuing to do so. Where issues raised have been without merit, we have worked hard to correct misinformation."

A group of reform-minded judges called the Alliance of California Judges has often been critical of the agency run by Overholt. They welcomed his departure, saying it opens the door to a "systematic overhaul of a bureaucracy that has caused many to question its competence and ability to spend public dollars prudently."

In a statement Thursday, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said, "Ron's decision to leave the AOC is regrettable. His departure as Interim Administrative Director is a great loss not only for the AOC but also for the state judicial branch. But we respect his judgment that a transition is necessary at this time for him and for the court system he has served so well."

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