Daily Journal Staff Writer
SAN FRANCISCO - Add another group to the list of critics pushing for
greater accountability from the Administrative Office of the Courts.
A coalition of judges from throughout the state has been discussing,
largely through emails, forming a new group aimed at forcing the agency
to open up about its budget and operations to democratize the Judicial
Council, policy-making body for the state's courts.
San Diego Judge Runston "Tony" Maino, who is among those
involved in discussions with the new group, said judges may push for an
independent audit of the AOC and to require that both the AOC and the
Judicial Council be subject to the California Public Records Act. The
judicial branch has long argued it is exempted from the act.
Maino said some judges he's heard from would also like a more open
process of appointing members to the council. Presently, Chief Justice
Ronald M. George appoints the majority of 27 members on Judicial
The move comes just weeks after the Legislature, as part of the
court-budget trailer bill, passed new rules that aim to provide the
public with greater access to the agency's information. Like the new
judicial coalition, that bill was a product of conflict over closing the
state court's $393 million budget gap.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge David Goldstein, one of the
leaders behind the proposed coalition, said judges began emailing each
other soon after the AOC proposed in April to close the courts one extra
day a month, pushing tens of thousands of court workers into unpaid
furloughs. The closures, which apply to all courts in the state and the
AOC, will begin in September.
Goldstein said judges have become even more concerned following what
they see as attempts by the AOC and Judicial Council to increase their
grip on local courts and an unwillingness on the part of the agency to
provide specifics about its ballooning budget.
"It has everything to do with control," Goldstein said,
adding that judges recognize the need to save money, but fear closing
the courts will harm the public. "The judges I've talked to, while
wanting to keep the courts open, are willing to take the furlough."
William Vickrey, administrative director of the courts, said the
decision to close the courts was tough to make and points out that it
was done during public judicial council meetings.
Although the judicial branch is not subject to the California Public
Records Act, Vickrey said it makes every effort to publicize its
meetings and allows for public comment. He said he welcomes any input
the new group might have.
"These judges ought to be involved and their voices ought to be
heard. If they find this association is the appropriate way to do that,
that's certainly their right," Vickrey said.
The court-budget trailer bill, signed in July, includes language that
will require the AOC to, among other things, release information on its
revenues and expenditures for all four fiscal quarters. The AOC was
previously only obligated to report that information for its first and
last fiscal quarters.
Also contained in the court budget trailer bill was a provision that
allows courts to record open court proceedings and monitor the
performance of judges - a move Goldstein said angered many of the judges
he's heard from. AOC officials later said that bill was not meant to
apply to sitting judges, rather pro-tems, and that the Judicial Council
planned to pass a rule of court to clarify the matter.
It is unclear whether the burgeoning judicial coalition will splinter
from the California Judges Association, the professional organization
that represents judicial officers throughout the state.
Yolo County Superior Court Judge Timothy Fall has not committed to
joining the new group but has been following discussions. He said as a
member of CJA executive board, he's been hearing from a number of
constituents who'd like CJA to take stronger position on behalf of the
"I think a number of judges would like to have membership in CJA
and not try to splinter off a new group, while they see a need for a new
organization to take on an advocacy role," he said.
CJA's incoming president, Los Angeles Judge Michael Paul Vicencia,
said no one from the group has contacted him. He said he and every
single member of CJA's board is committed to openness in the judicial
"The branch as a whole should be more transparent," he
said. "We owe it to the taxpayers whose money we spend."