Strange Times

     It has been pretty much a whole career in journalism since I found something exciting about the California Judges Association. But these are strange and wondrous times.
     I was driving down to my dad’s old place in Ramona on Thursday when I noticed that Maria Dinzeo had called. She has been breaking one major story after another for Courthouse News, so I pulled off to the side of the 15 freeway and called back.
     She read me the results of a CJA poll on the leadership’s supervision of the administrative arm of the courts, and on an IT system that is slowly veering into disaster.
     “Those are huge numbers,” I told her.
     A whopping 79 percent of the judges were dissatisfied with the Court Case Management System, a cumbersome IT system designed by a private operator that is draining hundreds of millions from the trial courts.
     And of the 877 California judges who answered the questionnaire – an impressive number in itself – almost two thirds, fully 62 percent, said they were dissatisfied with the Judicial Council’s supervision of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
     One of the things about a great story is that it just keeps on giving.
     It has long been my opinion that the AOC had stepped out of its role, which should be akin to that of a court clerk. It should implement the discretionary decisions, the policy, that is handed down by the council.
     Just as a court’s head clerk should implement the policy set by the court’s top judge.
     But for a long time, in my opinion, the relationship has been upside down.
     The AOC has gotten into the driver’s seat. The most clear sign of the aberration was the misbegotten IT project, which is taking huge amounts from trial court trust funds to pay for a computer system that is rigid and labor intensive and has been disdained by courts big and small in California.
     A former presiding judge and member of the council told me of the time the administrator in charge of the IT project told the Judicial Council that another $100 million had been signed off to Deloitte Consulting on the IT project.
     In answer to audible grumbling among the judges, the administrator commented, “It’s like I tell my husband, you just don’t know the price of shoes these days.”
     And with that, the money went out the door.
     For a great long time, the AOC was able to keep running things that way and keep a lid on any protest, partly through the judges association which is now being rocked by the poll.
     Illustrating the past position of the judges association, in a letter to the San Diego Union Tribune last month, Justice Richard Huffman blasted back at critics of the AOC, while praising the California Judges Association as the true representative of the trial judges.
     In turn, the head of the CJA, Judge Keith Davis, was criticized by other judges for going to Sacramento and lobbying against a bill that would return fiscal and policy autonomy to local trial courts, a bill supported by a majority of the judges, as last week’s poll made clear.
     The exciting thing about the CJA poll was that it blew the lid off, and showed the true state of opinion among the state’s judges.
     The truth of the matter is that roughly eight out of ten judges are critical of the profligate IT project. More fundamentally, a very large majority think the council is not doing a good job of controlling the administrators. And I tell you, the truth can be, and in this instance is, liberating.
     So I stayed by the side of the road, with cars whizzing past, working through the cellphone with Maria and the afternoon webpage editor to get the story on the page.
     I then continued on to the farm and spent the afternoon working with a saw, sander, nailgun and varnish, putting the kitchen structure together at the farm’s guest house, on a day of alternating sunshine and rain, while a multitude of birds sang their different tunes.
      The apple trees sported delicate, white blossoms and you could hear the creek, filled with rain water, rushing along its twists and turns. It was a lovely day amidst strange and wondrous times.

%d bloggers like this: