June 1, 2012

Strategic Evaluation Committee issues a report sharply critical of the AOC

As we noted in this post, the Chief Justice last year appointed an ad hoc Strategic Evaluation Committee to assess the operations of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the staff agency of the Judicial Council. This was in response to charges by some, including the Alliance of California Judges, that the AOC has become a bloated and unresponsive bureaucracy.

As recently reported in The Recorder and the Daily Journal [subscription required], the committee issued its nearly 300-page report last Friday. According to the Daily Journal, the report finds the AOC has indeed become “a top-heavy and unwieldy bureaucracy that should be downsized and given ‘a major overhaul.’” The Daily Journal reports that “[t]he committee . . . was strongly critical of the AOC, which it portrayed as lacking in transparency and credibility with a diminished focus on providing service to the courts.” In particular, the committee singled out for criticism the AOC’s management of the controversial and over-budget Court Case Management System (CCMS) project, which was recently halted by the Judicial Council.

Among the committee’s proposed reforms, writes the Daily Journal, are “for the AOC to lay off as many as 420 employees, eliminate vacant positions if they remain unfilled for six months, and end the use of temporary employees to circumvent a hiring freeze.” The report recommends some reductions should come from the Office of General Counsel, and also proposes that the AOC move its headquarters to Sacramento.

The Chief Justice has described the report as “fabulous,” saying it contains “hard” and “important” criticisms of the organization. However, she emphasized that “‘[m]ost of the hard criticism . . . comes from AOC employees themselves.’” According to The Recorder, the Chief added, “‘I think that this is the [judicial] branch doing what it is supposed to do: taking a hard look at ourselves and how we can best perform under limited resources.’” She also noted that the report is “‘backwards-looking’ and does not consider the restructuring and staff reductions now planned.”

The Alliance, for its part, predictably hailed the report as a validation of its longstanding criticisms of the AOC, calling it “‘an A to Z indictment of an out-of-control organization.”

The Judicial Council will consider the report at its June meeting.

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