As you know, the AOC and Council issued a press release last Thursday announcing that they had drafted a proposed Open Meeting Rule and that the draft rule was available on their website. The press release explained that there would be an initial comment period, followed by the circulation of the rule in final form for additional public comment. The press release stressed the inclusive nature of the process and further stated, "One or more of the chairs will be meeting with key stakeholders in the next few weeks to get their feedback on what the rule should incorporate. In the meantime, comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org (italics added).”
The press release, which we sent to our members Monday, suggested that comments would be accepted while those meetings took place over the next few weeks. The Alliance promptly asked to be included as one of the “stakeholders” that Council members would be meeting with to solicit input on the proposed rule. Then we learned from an unnamed AOC staffer that the comment period would close in two days. This was confirmed by the Council’s electronic newsletter Tuesday. We wonder how many were able to submit a comment by the following day. Ours is attached in pdf form.
Below is the November 17 email request from Alliance Director Judge Maryanne Gilliard to Teresa Ruano, the AOC staffer listed on the press release as the contact person for this project, followed by the non-responsive email from an unnamed AOC staffer received the next day, followed by Judge Gilliard’s prompt reiteration of her request to Ms. Ruano, copying AOC Director Judge Jahr. No response has been received. Apparently, in the eyes of the AOC and Council, 500 of this state's judges acting collectively do not merit stakeholder status, or even the courtesy of a prompt response.
Below the email exchange is a brief piece by Dan Walters. We wonder when the “more collaborative and transparent approach” that he notes was promised by the Chief Justice will in fact materialize.
Directors, Alliance of California Judges
November 17, 2013
Dear Ms. Ruano:
I am a Director of the Alliance of California Judges, an organization representing 500 of the state's judges and justices. I note that the press release dealing with the draft rule re: open meetings states that the drafters of the proposed rule will be meeting with "stakeholders" to gather input for the proposed rule in the next few weeks.
The Alliance of California judges has an ongoing interest in promoting transparency and accountability in the judicial branch. We have in the past urged the Judicial Council to open its advisory committee and other meetings to judges, and to the public. Up until now, these requests have been denied. We are concerned that the initial draft rule appears to contains exceptions that threaten to swallow the rule. Further, it appears that the yearly, tri-annual, and other branch-wide "planning sessions", now closed, appear to not be included in the rule or, if they are, this needs to be made explicit.
I request that I and some of my interested fellow Directors be made part of the drafting process, and be included in the "stakeholder" meetings promised by the press release.
Please contact me at your earliest convenience concerning this request.
Judge Maryanne Gilliard
Director, Alliance of California Judges
November 18, 2013
Dear Judge Gilliard:
Your question regarding the proposed open-meetings rule has been forwarded to us. Thank you for your interest. You will have two opportunities to comment on the rule. In the next few days, all comments and suggestions about the draft preliminary rule should be sent to email@example.com. The email box will be available through close of business, November 20. You’ll also have another opportunity to comment after the proposed rule is drafted and sent out for approximately six weeks of public comment.
Again thank you for your interest.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org Cc: email@example.com
November 18, 2013
Dear Ms. Ruano,
Perhaps my request was not clear.
What I am asking is to be included among those who will be accorded the opportunity to meet with one of the designated Judicial Council Members.
I bring to your attention this portion of your press release:
"One or more of the chairs will be meeting with key stakeholders in the next few weeks to get their feedback on what the rule should incorporate. In the meantime, comments can be submitted to: firstname.lastname@example.org."
Are you denying my request on behalf of the 500 members of the Alliance of California Judges to be included in the process outlined above? If so, is this your decision or that of the Chief Justice, Judge Jahr, Justice Miller, or someone else?
The Alliance is very interested in seeing that a good and workable rule is the outcome of this process, and our request is made in good faith toward that end.
Judge Maryanne Gilliard
California judges still waging a subdued war
By Dan Walters
The Sacramento Bee
November 19, 2013
When Tani Cantil-Sakauye became California's chief justice nearly three years ago, she inherited a nasty judicial squabble from her polarizing predecessor, Ron George.
George had persuaded the Legislature to have the state assume financial and operational control of what had been a locally managed court system, thus making him the boss of an immense state agency.
Many local judges resented what they saw as George's autocratic style of governance through a State Judicial Council and an Administrative Office of the Courts that he controlled, dubbing him "King George."
Resentments flared into open political warfare with the creation of the anti-George Alliance of California Judges, and the infighting intensified when a chronic state budget crisis squeezed the courts.
The rebels accused George and the court bureaucracy of protecting themselves from pain while squandering billions of dollars on an inoperable "case management" system.
Former state Sen. (and Judge) Larry Stirling, who co-sponsored legislation to unify the courts, wrote recently, "Chief Justice George completely misrepresented the purpose and intent of unification and used his misrepresentations for only one reason, to hijack the state court system."
Cantil-Sakauye declared that she wanted to close the rift with a more collaborative and transparent approach. The inoperable computer system was abandoned and the court system's chief administrator under George also retired.
However, with a continuing financial squeeze, the judicial war has continued.
The rebels say that Cantil-Sakauye, despite declaring that "I believe in complete transparency," has not made any fundamental changes.
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill requiring more judicial transparency at her request. Last week, the Judicial Council unveiled a new policy on open meetings — but it contained many exceptions and drew sharp criticism not only from rebel judges but also from publications that specialize in covering the judiciary.
In the midst of this turmoil, former Chief Justice George's memoirs were published, touching off still another firestorm.
In the book, he acknowledged that he once threatened the California Judges Association with "war" if it sought legislation to have members of the Judicial Council elected rather than appointed by him.
That generated articles in the judicial press once again raising the issue of what one called "George's strong-arm approach to running California's judiciary."
George, answering questions at a book-signing event, laughed off criticism.
"I find it amusing," he said in response to one question. "There's always the question of who's boss. I take it with good humor."
As demonstrated by the new flap over transparency, however, the friction his reign fostered is still very much alive.
Dan Walters writes for The Bee's Capitol bureau. Email: email@example.com; mail: P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852.