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The years-long political war among California's judges took another turn Friday, when a special commission appointed by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to investigate the Administrative Office of the Courts delivered a scathing report that, in effect, agreed with rebel judges.

The rebels, coalesced in the Alliance of California Judges, have been pushing legislation that would reduce the powers of the Judicial Council, which is headed by the chief justice, and the AOC and give local judges more authority to spend money.

The Alliance has accused the AOC of building a bloated bureaucracy (more than 1,100 employees) and wasting money on itself and on an inoperable computer case management system while starving local courts and forcing them to shut down periodically and furlough employees.

The "Strategic Evaluation Committee" bolstered the Alliance's case in its 298-page report, concluding, "The top-level decision making process of the AOC became insular, with a top-down management style limiting input from those within the organization."

While the AOC's shortcomings went unnoticed when judicial money was plentiful, the report continued, cutbacks in state support made them evident - especially the rapidly escalating costs and planning shortcomings of the case management system. The commission described the AOC as a "top-heavy and unwieldy organization" with "deficient" management processes.

Cantil-Sakauye inherited the judicial war from predecessor Ron George, who presided over the consolidation of 58 local court systems into one statewide system primarily financed by the state. He also launched the case management system - which was recently abandoned - and an extensive courtroom construction program which has been partially suspended to save money.

Cantil-Sakauye and the Judicial Council have been trying to settle the war by appointing the AOC study commission and stopping work on the computer and courthouse construction programs while opposing the Alliance-backed legislation and pleading with the Legislature for more money.

The Alliance hailed the AOC report, saying, "In summary, the report validates positions taken by the Alliance of California Judges and others who for years have warned that the AOC is broken at its very core and has been allowed to run itself, without meaningful Judicial Council oversight, for well over a decade."

The Assembly has approved the Alliance-sponsored bill, Assembly Bill 1208 by Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, but it's been stalled in the Senate by President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.


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