We provide you with a link to Dan Walters' column in yesterday's Sacramento Bee that discusses the formation of the Foundation for Democracy and Justice, a new public education foundation headed up in part by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. It is our understanding that this charitable foundation will be involved in public education regarding the importance of the judiciary, and it will not engage in legislative advocacy.
The Alliance has no quarrel with efforts to educate the public on the importance of an appropriately funded judicial system. We agree that the greatest problem facing the courts is insufficient overall funding. All areas of public function have suffered budget cuts in the recent downturn. Recovery is problematic.
The major impediment to restored funding, however, is not a "lack of education” on the part of legislators and other policy makers. Those we have talked to understand the great need to ensure that we have open and accessible courts. The major stumbling block to increased funding has been a sense within the legislative and executive branches that the Judicial Council and the AOC have squandered resources, wasted money and failed to make open, functioning trial courts the first priority of the branch. The problem has been a lack of transparency and accountability.
In last year’s budget discussions, no one in the Legislature or Department of Finance could be sure exactly how the Judicial Council and AOC were spending the bulk of their $170 million budget. There was consternation over the ongoing balances in the construction funds amounting to hundreds of millions. No one has done any “zero based” budgeting analysis to determine if funds in the hands of the AOC should be or could be redirected to offset trial court reductions. This is precisely why we have called for an audit of these funds in the coming legislative year. This information needs to be available so that appeals for additional funding sound with credibility.
It seems ironic that the new foundation is formed for “Democracy and Justice.” Much of the waste occurred because the Judicial Council and the AOC were allowed to spend freely, without the “checks and balances” that are critical to a healthy democracy. This is because all of the judicial members of the Judicial Council are appointed by one person, the Chief Justice, which has resulted in blinded and insular leadership. Trial court funding decisions need to be subject to the accountability which ensues when the decisionmakers are elected by their peers.
We hope that the new foundation will help to educate about the need for an audit of the judiciary and the need for democratic selection of the decisionmakers who are best suited to set the spending priorities of the judicial branch.
Directors, Alliance of California Judges