You may have received a letter from the Judicial Council trumpeting the launch of the new “Innovation Knowledge Center,” a website which provides information about “efficient and effective court programs that increase access to justice in the trial courts throughout the state.” The letter came with a color cardboard insert in the shape of an iPad. Apparently, the Judicial Council thought this information so important that they sent it to us by overnight courier. The letter notes that a ten-page list of “efficiencies in the judicial branch” has been posted on the Judicial Council public website.
This list is the work of the new Task Force on Trial Court Fiscal Accountability. According to a memo that accompanied an earlier version, the members of this Task Force were chosen last year by the Chief Justice to consider “various nonfunding-related recommendations from the TCFWG [Trial Court Funding Workgroup] and the Funding Methodology Subcommittee.” The Task Force recommended that the Judicial Council “authorize the creation of a Joint Court Efficiencies and Innovations Working Group of the Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee (TCPJAC) and the Court Executives Advisory Committee (CEAC).” This new working group subsumes the activities of the TCPJAC/CEAC Joint Working Group on Trial Court Business Process Reengineering (TCBPR) and the Trial Court Efficiencies Working Group,” and it will be supported by the AOC Trial Court Liaison Office, Trial Court Leadership Services Unit (TCLS).
This tangle of committees, subcommittees, advisory committees, task forces, and working groups, all with overlapping missions, already speaks volumes about the AOC, the Judicial Council, and efficiency.
For our part, we do not share the Task Force’s definition of what constitutes a “branch efficiency.”
For example, the list of “efficiencies” includes “adoption of plain language, easy-to-read court forms.” Coincidentally, just two months ago McGeorge School of Law professor John E.B. Myers wrote an editorial in the Sacramento Bee entitled "In family court, too many incomprehensible forms." Professor Myers decries “the proliferation of family-law forms by the California Judicial Council.” “The state’s effort to simplify family law by requiring forms has backfired,” he writes, noting that “[t]oday, there are more than 200 family-law forms.” The Task Force includes among its list of “branch efficiencies” one of the clearest examples of how the Judicial Council injected needless complexity into a trial court function.
The list also includes “outreach efforts” such as mock trials and court visits. These are good things, but they don’t save us money or get our work done faster.
The Task Force classifies the entire Center for Judiciary Education and Research as an “efficiency.” We disagree. More than 60 AOC staffers work at CJER as of March 31, even though judges do most of the actual teaching. We’ve noted in the past that the California District Attorneys Association educates more people with just a fraction of the staff.
The most jaw-dropping claims on the Task Force’s list, however, involve technology.
The list-makers include the Judicial Council’s Technology Planning Task Force as an example of a branch efficiency. They must not have seen the TPTF’s convoluted and baffling 210-page technology roadmap, the production of which must have consumed a lot of time and money. The success of the Sacramento Superior Court in developing a case search system without outside money or consultants (see the story here) suggests that a good way for the branch to increase efficiency would be to get the AOC out of the technology business altogether.
Even more curious is the listing for “Case Management System Replacement—shared configuration and codes (pilot program).” This entry refers to the work of a consortium of Northern California courts to develop specifications for an off-the-shelf case management system. The consortium may be doing its work efficiently, but it would not have to exist at all had the AOC not wasted half a billion dollars on a system—CCMS—that didn’t work. “Case Management System Replacement” is a shining example of branch inefficiency.
Very Truly Yours,
Directors, Alliance of California Judges