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California courts agency called dysfunctional as it grows amid judicial budget fund cutting

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POSTED May 30, 2012 9:23 p.m.

 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A blistering new report quietly released over the Memorial Day Weekend called for the overhaul of California's Administrative Office of the Courts, which it described as dysfunctional, secretive and top-heavy with overpaid executives.

The report was prepared by a committee of state judges appointed last year by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to investigate claims the administrative arm of the courts had grown too large and costly amid severe budget cuts. The chief justice released the nearly 300-page report late Friday night. The report chided the AOC for claiming in February that it employed "more than 750" when it concluded that the AOC has grown from 430 workers in 2002 to more than 1,100 last year with hundreds earning six figure salaries amid a supposed hiring freeze. AOC managers conceded they got around the hiring freeze by employing temporary and contract workers.

The report also said the AOC appeared guilty of violating its own work rules by allowing some workers to telecommute from long distances, including one attorney who works from Switzerland.

The report criticized the agency for a lack of transparency.

"The AOC's reporting of staffing levels has been misleading, leading to mistrust of the AOC," the report said. "Disingenuously suggesting that AOC staffing levels have been reduced in response to branch-wide budget and staffing cuts has led to further mistrust and cynicism."

The report calls for staffing cuts to fewer than 700 employees and for the agency's headquarter to be moved from San Francisco to Sacramento.

"''The organization needs to be right-sized," the report concluded.

The release of the report also comes amid Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to cut $544 million from the third branch's budget.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, the chief justice said the report will be considered next month by the Judicial Council, an appointed body that oversees the AOC. She said the report was a look at the past and didn't consider the AOC's current plans to grapple with deep budget cuts. She also defended the public release of the document, saying she released it as soon as she received it.

One of the agency's chief critics, the Alliance of California Judges, applauded the findings.

"The nearly 300-page report is an A-to-Z indictment of an out of control organization," the group wrote in an email Monday alerting media and others to the report's release. "It is an absolute 'must read' for everyone concerned about the functionality and credibility of our judicial branch." The group called for even more staff cuts.

 

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