S.F. Superior Letter Challenges Management

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) A single-page letter addressed to the presiding judge has been quietly circulating among San Francisco Superior Court’s beleaguered staff. “It is terribly transparent that the court has gutted the most hard working groups within the court and has kept ALL upper management,” says the letter signed “200,” reflecting the number of court workers scheduled to be laid off.
     Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein said in a press conference late last month that budget cuts imposed by Governor Jerry Brown and the California legislature will “dismantle this court,” forcing it to close 25 of its 63 courtrooms and resulting in five-year delays for civil claims to be litigated.
     Pink slips went out to the 200 employees about two weeks ago, and by September 30, almost half of the court’s workers will be gone.
     While the cuts are supposed to be based on seniority, neither the specific personnel to be laid off nor the precise standard for the layoffs is yet clear.
     The letter from the anonymous 200 reflects a broad theme similar to one recently pressed by trial court judges who have argued successfully that the highly paid administrators in the Administrative Office of the Courts should take an equal or greater cut than the trial courts, with the overriding goal of keeping courtrooms open.
     “We are so top-heavy,” says the writer 200, “it ironically mimics many of the AOC’s questionable practices.”
     Asked for comment from San Francisco’s presiding judge, spokesperson Ann Donlan replied by email, “The Court has no comment.”
     Donlan who came to the court from the Boston Herald is named in 200’s letter as an administrator who was hired relatively recently and should be subject to the same mighty axe that is felling the court’s lower level employees.
     “One question that remained unanswered has gone from the white elephant in the room to the large overbearing elephant in the building: Brandon Riley and Ann Donlan,” said the 200 letter. “Why are they still here?
     “Aren’t these cuts supposed to be made across the board and by seniority? It is apparent that that is not the case and we have been in fact cut down by classification,” says the voice in the letter.
     Riley is titled the court’s Training Director. The job description for the post says he “develops new work procedures to accomplish court room business,” and “coordinates staff training with outside private and government sources.”     
     Donlan is titled the court’s Communications Director. According to a notice published in 2007, the communications director “provides communication to the media and the public,” also “prepares speeches” and “mitigates hostile public interactions.”
     According to the court’s salary sheet prepared last year, Donlan and Riley each earn roughly $118,000 per year.
     A deputy clerk subject to the layoff notice makes a little over one third of that amount, starting at $46,000.
     The matter of a livelihood for such a large number of public employees is one of high sensitivity and no one would comment on the record. The court’s presiding judge declined comment through the court’s spokesperson who said the court would have no comment.
     The court’s chief executive office, its highest administrator, did not return a phone call seeking comment. Nor did the court workers’ Service Employees International Union representative.
     At the courthouse, clerks are going about their tasks with an air of solemnity and the worry over losing their jobs is palpable. The letter had been quietly stuffed into mailboxes and nobody seemed to know who wrote it.
     A second letter sent earlier this week, says some higher level administrators have been put on a list of court managers who will remain employed, even though they do not perform management duties.
     “Simply because the job description indicates that the individual holding these positions is defined as a part of management should not automatically qualify the certain personnel the ability to place themselves on a Court Manager list if they have never performed under that job title,” the letter says.
     The writer questions whether these tactics are simply efforts to protect favored administrators. “Is this all a bunch of politics and despite having ‘seniority’ it is better to have backdoor deals in upper management.”
     The position of the writer which appears to reflect the concerns of other court workers stems from the fact that lower level employees are being fired in droves, as upper management appears to remain secure. “Aren’t these cuts supposed to be made across the board and by seniority?” the staff letter asks. “It is apparent that that is not the case and we have been in fact cut down by classification.”
     One of the arguments made by the writer is that after the layoffs of lower level employees, the court will have ten upper-level supervisors to oversee one lower-level supervisor.
     The author also argues that many of the upper level administrators who have only worked at the court for a few years appear to be keeping their jobs, while court workers who have “devoted decades of their lives to the services of the court are being laid off or separated.”
     “If that isn’t a tragedy,” says 200, “I don’t know what is.”     

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