The Commission on the Future of California’s Court System (Futures Commission) will be holding a meeting on August 29th in which a public comments session will be held to, “further its mission of identifying ways to improve the court system and increase access to justice for all Californians.”
Of the concepts presented by the Futures Commission, two concepts stand out that should concern all official court reporters.
Concept 8. Explore Court Reporters’ Dual Status, Compensation Discrepancies, and Ownership of Transcripts
Concept 10. Explore Court Reporters’ Dual Status, Compensation Discrepancies, and Ownership of Transcripts
COCRA will be lodging letters of opposition to both of these proposals as COCRA believes these “concepts” are yet another attempt by the Judicial Council to implement “concepts” that will negatively affect official court reporters and the public at large.
COCRA is not alone in this belief. Today, the Alliance of California Judges sent an email to the Judicial Council stating their reasons for opposing these two concepts. We are including some of the comments that the ACJ submitted in their email.
The ACJ on Concept 8:
“Concept 8 is a proposal to deprive court reporters of the money they make from preparing transcripts. We consider this proposal an attempt to nickel-and-dime our co-workers, hundreds of whom have already been laid off over the past few years.”
The ACJ on Concept 10:
“Concept 10 is an effort to promote the replacement of court reporters with digital recordings…..The inadequacy of electronic recording isn’t just a matter of speculation; it’s a matter of record.”
COCRA agrees completely with the ACJ’s assessments of these two concepts.
COCRA will be working diligently with Shane Gusman, COCRA’s Legislative Advocate, as well as all unions, associations, and supporters of official court reporters to defeat these concepts which diminish our profession and further erode true access to justice for all Californians.
We will be updating you in the future with the results of our efforts and we encourage you to follow us on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
The following letter was sent out by the Alliance of California Judges voicing opposition to some of the concepts, such as ER in Family Law, put out by the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System.
Futures Commission Cloudy: Try Again Later
“Dear California Media (FYI, the following has been sent to our Alliance members),
In advance of a public comment session to be held next month, the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System just released its first batch of ideas. These proposed areas of study, a year and a half in the making, are grouped into 15 “concepts.” You can read them at this link.
We have a bad feeling about this. Many of these concepts—hatched in closed-door meetings with AOC support staff—look like the same tired old proposals that the AOC has been advancing for more than 15 years. The proposals include a “consolidated system” for juvenile courts; “systems to be implemented statewide,” including a “uniform statewide system of child custody mediation”; and a “transferable case management methodology to support all courts throughout the state.
Apparently the Commission sees the big problems confronting the branch as stemming from a lack of uniformity. The bulk of their proposed solutions involve an increase in central control—and in the power of the AOC. The Commission seems to have overlooked the spectacular failure of CCMS or the withering criticisms of our central bureaucracy by the Strategic Evaluation Committee in 2012 and the State Auditor just last year. If recent history teaches us anything, it’s that the AOC has the Midas touch in reverse when it comes to local court administration.[Emphasis added.]
Concept 4 involves “trial court employment and labor relations.” The authors point to the “great variation in trial court terms and conditions of employment” and urge the Commission to rethink “existing labor practices” in order to flatten out “court-to-court variations in employment terms and conditions.” The Commission will explore “the costs and benefits of different models of bargaining”—specifically including statewide bargaining.
When we recently suggested that the Commission was contemplating an expansion of the AOC’s role in local labor relations, including hiring and firing, our branch leaders went ballistic and quickly denied it. But the fact remains that the AOC can’t engage in statewide bargaining unless it has statewide authority over labor issues. It can’t bargain unless it has control.
Concept 5—a call for “a cost-effective official record in all case types”—also gives us grave concern. We sense it is a drive for more electronic recording in our courtrooms, fewer court reporters, and an attempt to deny reporters compensation for the transcripts they produce. This is dangerous. We firmly believe that a certified shorthand reporter provides the most accurate record for the parties and the strongest bulwark against bogus complaints of judicial misconduct. Anyone who has listened to an electronic recording of a court proceeding knows that it is no substitute for a reporter’s transcript. Moreover, further steps to reduce compensation to reporters will leave California struggling to find certified reporters, already a huge problem in states like Illinois and Pennsylvania, leaving courts with no option but to compromise due process by using unreliable and undecipherable electronic recordings.
There’s more. One statement in support of Concept 6, “Technology-Enhanced Court Proceedings and Online Transactions,” gives us chills: “Courts are unable to share information across jurisdictions and some are even unable to share information within the same jurisdiction, due to incompatible case management systems. . . .” [Emphasis added.]
In these words, the ghost of CCMS stirs. We are deeply concerned that the Commission will propose a statewide case management system along the lines of the one that cost us half a billion dollars and brought us to the brink of financial ruin. We are dismayed that the Commission contemplates an even greater role for our central administrators in technology management when past experience tells us they should be looking to vacate the field entirely.
The issues the Commission left unaddressed are just as disturbing as the proposals buried in these “concepts.” Nothing suggests that the Commission has considered an audit of the billions in court construction funds, scaling back the AOC’s staffing levels, moving toward a fee-for-service model for the AOC, or democratizing the Judicial Council. To the contrary, this set of “concepts” reads like an AOC wish list. The vast majority would entail an expansion of the AOC’s already excessive reach into local trial court affairs.
In his recent budget proposal, the Governor specifically mentioned that he was hopeful that the Futures Commission would come up with ideas that would “effectively and efficiently enhance access to justice.” With every proposal that expands the reach of the AOC, hope fades. We will do our best to prevent this Commission from “transforming” the judiciary into an inefficient statewide court system with centralized control and reduced flexibility and efficiency. Our trial courts and the public they serve deserve better.”
Directors, Alliance of California Judges
Alliance of California Judges
1817 Capitol Ave., Sacramento, CA 95811
The Daily Journal is reporting that while thousands of court employees, including court reporters, suffered court closures and furloughs, the AOC gave salary increases and other “perks” to its employees. The article quotes William Vickery, administrative director of the courts, as saying the increases were needed so that the AOC could “hold onto people we felt were valuable employees.”
According to the article:
Between February 2008 and July 2009, the AOC elevated nearly 80 employees, and raised their pay as much as 31 percent, brushing aside its own self-imposed freeze on promotions, according to payroll records from the State Controller’s Office.
The records show that while the agency imposed once-monthly furlough days on employees with one hand, it has increased salaries so much with the other that, coupled with new hires, its payroll costs grew 6 percent from July 2008 to July 2009, for a total of nearly $4.2 million per year.
The article also listed the names of managers and directors who benefited from the salary increases.
Two managers in the agency’s Office of Court Construction and Management, who were not promoted, received 14 percent raises between July 2008 and July 2009, on top of 3.5 merit salary adjustments they’d received earlier in 2008. Another manager in that office received a 9 percent raise.
The raises do not take into account the 5 percent pay cut employees are taking as a result of the furlough.
Carrizosa said the three employees received raises when the new director, Lee Willoughby, took over and gave them added responsibilities.
“The raises reflect his restructuring of the office and changes of assignments and related equity adjustments,” Carrizosa wrote.
AOC’s three regional administrative directors who report to Vickrey, Sheila Calabro, Christine Patton, and Jody Patel also saw big pay bumps, each receiving 10 percent increases in that 2008-2009 time period, bringing their base salaries to $198,708 a year.
According to Carrizosa, those pay raises included that 3.5 percent merit increase. The additional compensation was, “based on the need to remain competitive with other courts.
Columnist Jeff Ackerman of The Union, a Nevada County newspaper, revealed in a column posted to the paper’s online edition that believe it or not, the AOC has not been spending its money wisely during these tough economic times for California superior courts. As an example of how he believes the AOC is misspending money, he reveals that the AOC had a meeting at its San Francisco location where attendees were called upon to discuss “The California Judicial Branch Budget Crisis.” And how much did this meeting to discuss the obvious wind up costing taxpayers?
..around 70 people from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) got together at the Hilton in San Francisco to discuss … get this … “The California Judicial Branch Budget Crisis.” They even spent $40,000 on five facilitators, just to make sure they came away with good notes on where all the taxpayer money went. And … again … I couldn’t make this up if I tried. “Gentlemen … please pass the wine … we are gathered here to discuss urgent business … please pass the cheese … the state is broke and unless we find some money, we may be meeting next year in Marysville at a Motel 6 …,” which resulted in a collective gasp and group wine-spit across the table.
A $10,000 facilitator had to be summoned to coordinate a group-hug.
The Hilton meeting rooms cost $42,000, according to a memo I intercepted in cyberspace. An estimated 25 of the 70 attendees spent two nights each at the Hilton (at a discounted price of $138 per night) and one member (a fellow named Judge Brad R. Hill) spent the night in the “Presidential Suite” because, according to the memo, it was his turn. The memo didn’t say how much the suite cost, but presidents don’t stay in rooms where remote controls are chained to the television sets. Don’t ask how I know this to be true.
It might be a good time to pause here and remember that this party … I mean conference … was happening while Nevada County courthouse employees (and state employees all over California) were being laid off and sent home without pay. So you might start to understand why our local judges might be just a little torked by such extravagance by their Mother Ship. You might also start to understand how groups such as the Tea Party are starting to get serious momentum.
The judicial group eventually got bummed out by all the budget crisis talk, so they boarded a bus and headed to the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, where taxpayers paid $6,000 for a cocktail party, according to the memo from the judicial council’s mouthpiece.
Also drawing Mr. Ackerman’s ire is the AOC’s computer system which will purportedly cost $1.1 billion.
Close to home, our Nevada County courts have trimmed payroll and may be forced by the Mother Ship to close one day per month despite a growing caseload. Local judges wondered why their own Mother Ship (the AOC) was growing while they were being asked to sacrifice.They also question the need for a $1.1 BILLION computer system being shoved its way by the AOC. The math, by the way, works out to roughly $20 million per county … for a freaking computer system. At a time when we are cutting teachers, cops and firefighters to save money.
Mr. Ackerman’s column begs a few questions. When Californians voted to approve the consolidation of municipal and superior courts, do you think they had any idea that they would wind up creating a new bureaucratic octopus with its tentacles in the financial pot of every county? And would Californians have voted to approve the consolidation if they knew just how much money it would take to feed this octopus in its current state? And is this column just the beginning of a more focused look by the press on the inner workings and spending habits of the AOC? Stay tuned.