Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com
November 26, 2015

  • Financial, managerial problems plague system
  • Rebel judges battle with judicial leaders
  • Ability of courts to function threatened

There’s nothing more fundamental to a well-functioning society than an efficient, fair court system to resolve civil disputes and criminal cases.

California has the nation’s largest court system, and perhaps its most troubled with severe financial and managerial tangles, and a virtual war between a San Francisco-based administrative superstructure and hundreds of rebellious local judges.

What was once a highly decentralized system – and by state law supposed to be that way – was more or less compressed into a centrally managed system under former Chief Justice Ron George, through the state Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts.

When Tani Cantil-Sakauye succeeded George five years ago, she inherited not only a big financial crisis, born of the Great Recession, but a very expensive “case management” system that had cost hundreds of millions of dollars but didn’t work, a courthouse construction program in disarray, and the trial judge rebellion.

Today, the budget crisis continues, the case management system was finally abandoned, the construction program is still underway, albeit with an uncertain future, and the Alliance of California Judges, the rebel group, is as noisome as ever.

Scarcely a month passes without some new dust-up. The rebel judges portray the Administrative Office of the Courts as an arrogant, dysfunctional agency squandering funds better spent on local court operations, and the Judicial Council as a pack of sycophants.

In a series of highly critical reports, State Auditor Elaine Howle has largely sided with the Alliance of California Judges about the shortcomings of the court leadership and administrative structure, saying that it’s not making the best use of the courts’ limited operational funds.

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