March 24, 2011

The Chief Justice outlines her plans for the Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye released a “California Courts News Alert” video Tuesday in which she outlined her “immediate priorities” concerning the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and the Judicial Council. The Chief explained that she is appointing a Strategic Evaluation Committee (or SEC) to examine the AOC from “top to bottom.” The SEC is to make recommendations on improving the AOC’s efficiency to the Judicial Council’s Advisory Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency, a committee Cantil-Sakauye chaired before ascending to the post of Chief Justice. The Chief explained that that Advisory Committee, in turn, will be expanded and applications to serve are welcome. The Chief lauded the AOC’s 750-member staff for their work, but said it is necessary to review and assess all aspects of AOC operations to focus on core services to courts.

The Chief next described in general terms her plans to expand the membership of the Judicial Council beyond its current 31 members. She underscored that applications are welcome and that her only criteria for membership are that applicants be “open-minded, civil in their expression and have a statewide perspective” for the judicial branch of government.

Finally, the Chief discussed the recently announced retirement of AOC head Bill Vickrey, which we blogged about on Tuesday. She explained that Vickrey believes this is the “optimal time to step aside.” The Chief thanked Vickrey for his leadership and “monumental contribution” to the administration of justice in California.

What is most significant about this video is that it outlines the Chief’s strategic response to the challenge the Alliance of California Judges has mounted to the centralization of court administration, a topic we discussed here and here. Will the Chief’s open, collaborative approach be enough to satisfy critics of centralization? Will it forestall legislative action on the proposed Trial Court Rights Act (AB 1208), which would increase local courts’ autonomy at the expense of the Judicial Council? Only time will tell.

UPDATE: As reflected in this press release, the Chief Justice has announced the members of the Strategic Evaluation Committee, which will be conducting an in-depth review of AOC operations. The SEC will be chaired by Arthur Scotland, who recently retired as Administrative Presiding Justice of the Third District Court of Appeal.

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