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Yes on AB 1208

Larry Stirling Sounds Off on AB 1208!

by Larry Stirling

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is in a snit because the State Assembly passed Chuck Calderon’s Assembly Bill 1208 placing limits on how much money she and her San Francisco bureaucrats can siphon off from the annual court appropriations.

The bill now heads to the senate where it faces an uncertain future. It shouldn’t. The senate should pass the bill and educate the chief justice about…justice.

This is no small matter because while local courts have been shut down lengthening lines, increasing delay times for local litigants, and  staff and judges have been required to take pay cuts,   Ms. Cantil-Sakauye’s  San Francisco based Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) employees, far removed from court rooms, have been pigging out with surplus staff, $100,000-plus salaries, and even bonuses.

I know from personal experience that the AOC staff is dysfunctional.

If any one of them ever served in a court room as clerk or judge, I have not met them. 

They squelch good ideas coming up from the courts and sponsor bad ideas such as centralized control by themselves and the fostering of an monstrous computer system which does not work the cost of which has ballooned to nearly two billion dollars.

It will never be ready for the heavy lifting of recording the disposition of 10 million cases per year while tracking a similar volume of cases from prior years.

The AOC staff actually ordered the shut down of local efforts to computerize that were being appropriately and incrementally developed from the ground up.  Their claim was that such systems couldn’t talk to each other. Leaving aside the necessity of such, that problem had long since been solved.

Now the beleaguered staff at 450 court locations throughout the state has to double enter data on their local hard copies which provide the only competent record. And then work overtime to feed the useless monster the AOC has perpetrated on the courts.

Ms. Cantil-Sakauye was apparently nominated by former Chief Justice Ron George over a dozen more qualified candidates precisely for her willingness to continue the former CJ’s diversion of appropriations away from local courts and to the growing gang of useless, overpaid, incompetent AOC staff.

She claims that legislature has violated the constitutional separation of powers by depriving her and her hand-picked “Judicial Council” of their right to govern the courts.

She has it wrong.  The legislature is the tax-and- spend branch of the government.  The split of authority has been clear since the constitution was adopted and is most easily understood the way it was explained to me as a member of both house judiciary committees:  “The quality of justice belongs to the judges; the quantity of justice belongs to the legislature.”

Ms. Cantil-Sakauye need look no further than Article 6, Section 6, Subsection (d) of the California State Constitution that deems the Judicial Council as “advisory” not “governing.”

Any legislation that CJ George cadged out the legislature in violation of (d) is ultra vires to the constitution and therefore void. Local courts are justified in ignoring any orders based thereon.

Criticizing the legislature for doing their job by seeing to it that money intended to reach the courts actually did so is a constitutional, legal, and political blunder.

Ah, but she is just doing was CJ George and his team want her to do.

Former Chief Justice George should have known better. He actually started out as a municipal court judge and should have been familiar with the fact that last year alone, 10,074,961 cases were filed in 58 county courts.

About ten percent of those cases were “civil” while the rest were overwhelmingly criminal cases composed of 238,511 felonies, 1,152,215 misdemeanors with the overwhelming workload in volume, fines, and importance to public safety being 6,698,721 “infraction” meaning mostly traffic cases.

He should also have been aware that county courts are internally governed under state law by the elected local judges.  The state courts were never designed by to homogenized by fiats from San Francisco headquarters or Sacramento lobbyists.

California counties from tiny Mariposa to gargantuan Los Angeles are too diverse for a one-size-fits-all computer system or organizational structure. Local judges are elected by locals to serve local needs.

The art of resolving 10 million disputes annually cannot be dictated by inexperienced bureaucrats five hundred miles away.

Assembly Judiciary Chair Mike Feuer opposed the bill claiming the only problem is that the court lacks resources.  Sorry Mr. Chairman, but the problem with the courts is that the assembly and the senate judiciary committees ceded their roles to the Judicial Council with disastrous consequences for the litigating and taxpaying publics.

The “Profiles-in-Courage” award goes to the sponsors of AB 1208, the leadership and members of the newly created Alliance of California Judges.

This group of courageous judges put their careers on the line to honor their oaths of office.

Sadly too many local presiding judges have played the Quisling currying personal favor with the chief justice at the expense of their local citizens.


Yes on AB 1208.