Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

When Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature took another bite out of the state court system to balance the state budget – on paper, anyway – they reignited a political war between rival factions of judges over financial priorities.

The fight began when rebel judges organized themselves as the Alliance of California Judges and opposed former Chief Justice Ron George’s commitment of vast funds to a statewide computer system with chronic operational shortcomings while trial courts were being forced to curtail operations.

After George retired last year, his successor, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, inherited the controversy. She pledged a more collegial approach, and there was a housecleaning at the Administrative Office of the Courts, including retirement of the AOC’s director, William Vickery, whom the rebel judges saw as their chief antagonist.

However, with additional state budget cuts, the war over priorities continued, focusing on what the critical judges said was a bloated AOC bureaucracy that was consuming too much money and was being shielded from the cuts being imposed on local trial courts.

Cantil-Sakauye appointed a former colleague on the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento, ex-Justice Arthur Scotland, to head a “Strategic Evaluation Committee” that would weigh allegations of administrative bloat and seek a truce with the rebels.

That then put Scotland in the middle of a verbal firefight over the AOC’s alleged refusal to give the critical judges detailed information on its spending, including salaries of staffers.

Scotland ordered the AOC staff to comply with the data requests, but the critics said the staff still stonewalled them so that they could not fully respond to a questionnaire from Scotland’s committee.

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