On July 29, the Judicial Council will vote to “retire” the name of the Administrative Office of the Court and henceforth refer to the AOC as “the Judicial Council staff.” The reasons for the change, and for the haste with which it’s being made, remain muddled. Our branch leaders claim that the change is necessary to eliminate “confusion”—although they never specify who is being confused, why the confusion couldn’t be cleared with a simple explanation rather than by suddenly changing the name of a 50-year-old institution, or why the confusion needs to be dispelled now, as opposed to sometime earlier in the budget process when it might have made a difference.
On one point, however, branch leaders have remained clear. They have all repeatedly claimed that the AOC has never existed as a separate entity.
In a letter to AOC staff dated June 27, the Chief Justice wrote: “Many now view the ‘AOC’ as a separate entity from the council, which it is not—it is, and always has been, the council’s staff arm, and as such implements council policy and provides professional services to the courts on the council’s behalf.” Justice Miller, chair of the powerful Executive & Planning Committee, declared at the last Judicial Council meeting, “We are not and we have not been separate and distinct entities.” A recent press release quotes AOC Administrative Director Jahr has having said, “There's only one entity, and that’s the Judicial Council of California. Neither in the Constitution, in statute, in rules, or in other formal methods, was a separate entity ever created.” And in their report to the Judicial Council for consideration at this week’s Council meeting, the chairs of the five internal Judicial Council committees wrote: “It is a common misperception that the ‘AOC’ is an entity that is separate from, and in some way independent of, the council, with its own policymaking authority. In reality, the ‘AOC’ is not a separate entity.”
But this is not the position that the AOC and the Council have taken in court.
When AOC employee Paula Negley sued the AOC and the Judicial Council for gender discrimination and wrongful termination, attorneys for the Council argued back in 2010:
“Plaintiff was employed by the AOC, not the Judicial Council. (Fuentes, Decl. p. 9.) As all of Plaintiff’s claims are predicated on the existence of an employee/employer relationship, the Judicial Council is entitled to summary judgment.” (Emphasis in original.)
And Ernesto Fuentes, Director of the AOC’s Human Resources Division, stated in a declaration under penalty of perjury: "Plaintiff was employed by the AOC, not the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council does not have any employees.”
We link the relevant documents here and here. We obtained them through PACER, the federal judiciary’s functioning case search and e-filing system.
In announcing the proposed name change, Administrative Director Jahr said, “This retirement [of the name] at once changes everything, and changes nothing.” It certainly changes one thing: the position that the AOC and the Council have taken in documents that they filed under oath in litigation with their own employees.
Very Truly Yours,
Directors, Alliance of California Judges