SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California's court leadership is taking the offensive against its critics, bringing a reaction equally as powerful from judges and legislators. The most recent clash has been played out on the editorial pages of the San Diego Union Tribune, where a trial judge first said the judiciary's system of governance is broken, followed by an answer from an appellate justice who said trial judges are trying to establish separate fiefdoms, which in turn brought a rebuke from a powerful legislator who said judiciary leaders are displaying "arrogance."
In an opinion piece published a week ago titled "A Judicial Hierarchy out of Control," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan said the judiciary's leadership has lost the confidence of California's public as exemplified in its continuing campaign to push a botched IT system on local courts.
"Under the mantra of statewide administration, we have allowed an unaccountable bureaucracy to hold sway over our judges," said the opinion piece published in the San Diego Union Tribune.
That opinion was answered this week by a blast of a letter from Appellate Justice Richard Huffman, also published in the Tribune and aimed at a group of trial judges who are challenging the top brass of the courts. He said those judges are trying to take California's courts backwards.
"Horan and a few others are capitalizing on legitimate concerns about local control," said Huffman's letter, adding that "disaffected judges" are seeking to "return to the days of separate judicial fiefdoms."
That letter brought criticism from longtime legislator Charles Calderon (D-Montebello) who is sponsoring a bill to return power to individual local courts and their head judges. That transfer of power would reduce the influence of the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Judicial Council, the two bodies that currently determine statewide policy for the courts.
"I think Judge Horan has very legitimate concerns," said Calderon in an interview.
As a member of the Judicial Council years ago and the longest-serving member of both the state Assembly and Senate, Calderon says he has watched the bureaucratic takeover of the courts. Last month, Calderon introduced AB 1208, the "Trial Court Rights Act," that intends to decentralize judicial power and hand more responsibility to head judges in individual courts.
Under AB 1208, judges will be in charge major funding decisions for their own courts.
"I don't see how the courts could be more bureaucratized than they are now," said Calderon. "1,100 bureaucrats comprise the AOC. It has become so bureaucratic that the AOC officials make decisions right down to the light bulbs and what clock should be replaced."
"And so it can't get anymore bureaucratic," Calderon continued, "and the only thing that can happen with my legislation is there will be less bureaucracy and more self-determination in terms of representing the communities that elect them."
Clashes within the judicial branch have been galvanized by a $1.9 billion IT system, called the Court Case Management System, which trial judges and legislators have criticized as unwieldy and exorbitantly expensive.