Saturday, March 19, 2011

AB1208 "The Trial Court's Rights Act of 2011."

The Alliance of California Judges is a group challenging the authority of California's judicial leadership. The group of 300 to 400 judges is basically taking the Judicial Council and the Association of Courts (AOC) to task. Their main concern? That the AOC and Judicial Council have overtaken the courts and are acting in self-interest rather than in the interest of the community. An example? The planning and installation of the court's "centralized" computer system allowing court users to log in and check case status and which is currently functioning in only 7 of California's 58 counties.

The Alliance points out that among other issues, the computer system is one of the biggest mistakes of the administration, a $330 million mistake with projections that the cost will increase to $1.9 billion before the project is finalized. This is while the courts are laying off and furloughing employees and closing its doors during business hours to save money.

This computer system was envisioned ten years ago and spearheaded by former Chief Justice Ron George as bringing nation's largest court system into the 21st century by linking every courthouse in the state’s 58 counties.

In a March 12, 2011 New York Times article, Judge Steve White of the Sacramento County Superior Court was quoted as saying, “The idea of having all of the courts connected through a case-management system is appealing in the abstract — all of us favor the concept.” Judge White (the leader of the Alliance) went on to say, “But that has turned into an ill-conceived, mismanaged and failed experiment. It simply has not worked.”

The computer system coupled with other missteps and mistakes of the AOC has the Alliance up in arms and ready for a fight. The Alliance would like for the judges and court personnel to gain more control over its own budget and use of funds thereby effectuating a balance in power. Many judges expressed concern that giving unfettered power to the Judicial Council and the AOC would erode the ability of the courts to respond to the needs of local communities and would foster a centralized bureaucracy, whose chief goal would be to serve itself.

The Alliance feels that these concerns have been proven. It is now sponsoring AB1208, "The Trial Court's Rights Act of 2011." This bill clarifies the powers and responsibilities of the Judicial Council, AOC and the 58 trial courts.

The bill would provide that, except as otherwise provided by law, all funds allocated for trial court operations, once appropriated, shall be fully allocated among the trial courts, and that no deductions shall take place without the consent of the affected courts. The bill would authorize each trial court to move funds, once budgeted and allocated, between functions or line items or programs as directed by that court's trial court management.

The bill would require the trial court management's written consent to impose, implement, or share any case or accounting information system, or to contribute any portion of the trial court's budget to a statewide information system, or to undertake the construction of a court facility in that county. The bill would require the Judicial Council to consider, and revise or adopt, rules and policies consistent with these provisions.

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