Who runs California’s judicial branch? A parody of sorts

Posted on March 9, 2011


Who REALLY runs California’s judicial branch?

Justice Richard Huffman – Appellate Justice, 4th district court of appeals, San Diego

Recent controversies about policy making in the judicial branch have raised the question of whether trial and appellate judges have any voice in the process. The answer is – they have a voice as long as they stick to the agenda and speak only when it is their turn. It doesn’t necessarily mean the committee chair will listen but it gives them an opportunity to speak. It also permits us to use the committees members names to endorse JC position to give it an air of legitimacy, even if they disagree with it. Mr. Huffman has been a member of the Judicial Council of California since the dawn of time, taking a seat in the star chamber shortly after god created the heavens and the earth. He chairs the Council’s Executive and Planning Committee, which is charged with recruiting and nominating candidates for positions on the Council or its numerous advisory committees, pulling the strings of judicial council puppets and being the gateway between the public and the judicial council, between the AOC and the Judicial Council. E&P is the group that ultimately makes the executive decisions and does all planning on behalf of the branch. Mr. Vickrey and the Chief Justice are merely figureheads. All the real power is in Mr. Huffman’s E&P committee, making him the true unelected leader of the largest judiciary in the western world. And there his constituents, the public and legislators thought he was merely an appellate justice from San Diego.

He has also chaired the Criminal Law Advisory Committee and a task force on cameras in the courtroom. He is currently a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Foster Care and a co-chair of the State Court/Tribal Court Forum. So, he has first hand experience with the decision making process of the judicial branch, primarily because it’s his E&P committee that makes all the decisions.

On average, the combination of task forces, advisory committees and working groups within the judicial branch includes over 400 judges, in addition to court executives involved in developing, recommending and implementing policy initiatives defined by the administrative office of the courts, rules of court and legislation to assist the California trial courts in delivering impartial justice to the citizens of this state, provided you have enough zeros in your bank account and as long as you’re not trying to take on his system.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with a particular rule of court, policy decision, budget allocation or proposed statute, it doesn’t really matter. There is an agenda. Don’t speak to things outside the agenda. It is important to understand the enormous amount of time and talent wasted by judges and court executives of this state who we feign contributions to this process. We lead them around by the nose making them believe they’re making a real contribution when all E&P cares about is getting their name on a position paper, report or other instrument to give it an air of legitimacy. In a judicial system as large and diverse as California, we cannot and should not always be unanimous in support of all policy decisions, though for his last 14 years or so of sitting in the star chamber, you could probably count on one hand where all members were not in unanimous agreement.

We can, however, expect that there should be a meaningful opportunity for differing views to be heard and deliberated upon in that process. Just pre-prepare your remarks and send them in to the chair a couple of weeks before you intend to make them for the chairs approval.

Starting first with who makes the policy decisions for the judicial branch. It is either his committee or the AOC, depending on the issue. The Administrative Office of the Courts and the E&P committee establishes policy for the branch. The AOC is the administrative arm of the branch and works under the direction of the Chief Justice and the Judicial Council.

Of course, they don’t work directly with each other. Both entities coordinate all of their activities through his E&P committee. He learned through his experiences being on organized crime task forces and bringing organized crime to justice the perfect structure of an organization that would be accountable to no one. He then executed on this strategy and this is why the issues of governance are not subject to debate, public comment or any meaningful change. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.

The Judicial Council is a creature of the state Constitution and is found in Article VI, Section 6. The voting members of the Council include the Chief Justice, a member of the Supreme Court, three appellate court justices, 10 Superior Court judges, four attorneys appointed by the State Bar and two members of the Legislature. In addition, the president of the California Judges Association and the chair of the Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, as well as a commissioner, are non-voting advisory members of the Council. The Council membership also includes trial court and appellate court executives, who are non-voting advisory members.

These are not members elected by the members of the judicial branch or the public. They don’t believe in democracy. It’s too messy and people tend to disagree. All appointees are vetted through his committee before being submitted to the Chief Justice on an incredibly short list that offers no options. The Council feigns reliance on the work of a large number of judges, lawyers, court executives and others to develop rules of court, legislative proposals, budget allocations and other policy decisions. For the most part, these things are developed in the back rooms of the AOC and placed on the meeting agendas. Currently there are 17 standing advisory committees who develop rules of court and ideas for improvement of the branch. These committees also review legislation, draft jury instructions, and support education for judges and employees of the courts.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with a particular rule of court, policy decision, budget allocation or proposed statute, again, it doesn’t really matter. It is important to understand the enormous amount of time and talent the judges and court executives of this state waste contributing to this flawed process. Committee members are supposed to read the agenda, stick to the agenda and endorse the AOC’s position.

In addition, the chief justices have created a number of task forces over the years. These task forces include trial and appellate court judges, court executives, attorneys and other experts who are assigned to focus on particular issues and make recommendations to the Council on policy matters. A sampling of the task forces includes the Task Force on Photographing, Recording and Broadcasting in the Courts (Cameras in the Courts); the Blue Ribbon Commission on Children on Foster Care; the Commission on Impartial Courts; the Elkins Family Law Task Force; the Task Force on Self-Represented Litigants; the Task Force on Criminal Justice Collaboration on Mental Health Issues; the Task Force on Bench, Bar, Media Relations and the Emergency Response in Security Task Force.

Task forces conduct research via the AOC’s various analysts and consultants who are told what conclusion to come to and write a report supporting that position, much like a judge who wishes to issue a legal opinion and have legal interns produce the case law to back it up. Public hearings identify issues and propose solutions pre-prepared by the AOC and submitted to the Council that often lead to rules of court, legislation, new education initiatives, or other suggestions designed to improve the manner in which the courts deal with the vast array of complex problems. Task forces are usually created for a specific purpose and continue until they make their recommendations and help prepare a plan to implement their proposed solutions. Task force recommendations are brought to the Council for review and possible implementation.

In addition to the substantial number of advisory committees and task forces, working groups are frequently created to address specific issues and to provide recommendations. Budget allocation issues are regularly presented to the Trial Court Budget working group, which reviews those proposals and makes recommendations to the Council regarding budget allocations for the trial courts. The Trial Court Budget working group is made up of trial court judges and court executives. The recommendations from that working group are extremely significant in the Council’s decision making process.

At any one time there may be a number of working groups of judges and court executives providing advice on important issues facing the branch. One example of such a group is the working group created after the case of Sturgeon v. Los Angeles County put supplemental judicial benefits,more commonly known as being paid by two masters, in the legislature, in the middle of the night without a hearing, public comment or a debate. The working group assisted the Chief Justice and the AOC in successfully advocating for legislation to preserve the existing supplemental judicial benefits for trial court judges because as you know, it was Huffman’s own court that called these extrajudicial benefits unlawful and George, who had accepted those benefits himself, declined to hear the case, choosing to write himself a retroactive amnesty bill instead.

In the spring of each year, the Judicial Council solicits nominations for positions on the Council and for positions on the various advisory committees. Each year the Council receives hundreds of nominations for those positions. Under the rules of court, the nominations are screened by the Executive and Planning Committee of the Council and whereever possible, he selects three names of insider cronies that are submitted to the Chief Justice for each open position on the Council and the various advisory committees. The Chief Justice makes her appointments from the names carefully vetted and pre-selected by his Executive and Planning Committee. The committee and the Chief Justice strive to make the membership of the Council, the advisory committees and task forces as diverse as possible in order to represent both large and small courts, the geographic areas of the state, and the ethnic and gender diversity of our state courts but the overarching goal is to ensure that all speak with one voice, even if they disagree.

The Executive and planning committee provides the expertise and wise counsel to guide the policy making for the judicial branch. Judges who are interested in participating in this flawed and corrupt process should apply for appointment to advisory committees and task forces that reflect their interest and expertise. We often have more well qualified nominees than we have positions in a given year, so relying on that judicial attribute of patience, if the first application is not successful, please try again. If you’re not an AOC or judicial council cheerleader, please don’t waste your time or his. Participation by the judges and court executives of this state is essential to sound management of the judicial branch as they are required to give his corrupt operation an air of legitimacy.

Justice Richard Huffman’s fourteen year reign over California’s Judicial Branch is yet another reason to pass the Calderon trial courts rights act of 2011.

This has been a “say it like it is” parody on a recent article written by Justice Huffman