Jerry Brown touts growing diversity among judges

Gov. Jerry Brown is touting the increased diversity he’s bringing to state courts.

Brown’s office announced today that he has made 90 judicial appointments since taking office, drawing from a pool of 1,168 applicants. Women accounted for about a third of the applicant pool and more than 34 percent of Brown’s appointments; about 34 percent of the applicants identified themselves as ethnic minorities, and 37 percent of Brown’s appointments came from among these.

Brown’s 2012 appointments included Halim Dhanidina, the first American-Muslim judge ever appointed in California; Jim Humes, the first openly gay justice to serve on the California Court of Appeal; Miguel Marquez, the first Latino justice to serve on the Sixth District Court of Appeal; Rosendo Peña, the first Latino justice to serve on the Fifth District Court of Appeal; Chris Doehle, the first female judge to serve on the Del Norte County Superior Court; Kimberly Colwell, the first openly lesbian judge to be appointed to the Alameda County Superior Court; and Mark Andrew Talamantes, the first Latino judge to serve on the Marin County Superior Court.

Brown’s office also noted this is the first time in the state’s history that a Latino or Latina is serving on all six state Courts of Appeal.

The state’s Administrative Office of the Courts reported that overall diversity on the California bench has been increasing gradually since 2006.

State laws require the governor to disclose judicial applicants’ demographic data every year by March 1.


Longtime legislative aide goes to bat for courts

A longtime Bay Area legislative staffer has been hired to head the state court system’s governmental affairs office – and lead the courts’ fight against draconian budget cuts by the Legislature and governor.

Cory Jasperson was hired by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye at the recommendation of a Judicial Council search committee led by Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvin Baxter. Jasperson, 42, will start Dec. 3 as a replacement for Curt Child, who was promoted last month to become the Administrative Office of the Courts’ chief operating officer.

“The search committee was very impressed with Cory Jasperson’s personal attributes, professional experience, and outstanding reputation he has earned in the Capitol,” Baxter said in a news release. “We are confident that he will lead the Office of Governmental Affairs with great distinction.”

Jasperson currently is chief of staff to state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who is term-limited out at the end of this year and is about to start a term on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Earlier, Jasperson served as a top aide to other lawmakers including Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, and Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View.

Jasperson, in the courts’ news release, said he’s eager to get to work. “I strongly believe that our democracy requires a vibrant and independent judiciary to provide access to justice for all Californians. At the same time, I am acutely aware of the challenges faced by all three branches because of the state’s fiscal crisis.”

Indeed, Jasperson is in for quite a ride: The California judicial system’s budget has been cut by 30 percent since the 2008-2009 fiscal year, leading to layoffs, reduced hours and services, and delayed or cancelled construction projects.


State courts’ top bureaucrat resigns

A former Alameda County Superior Court executive from Danville resigned his post as the California court system’s interim top bureaucrat yesterday, months after an investigative report detailed lavish spending on food, drink and hotels even while cash-strapped courts cut their services. (ed. note: Please see update at bottom of this post.)

Ron OverholtRonald Overholt, 59, submitted his resignation to California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye on Wednesday. The Judicial Council is meeting in closed session today to choose a new interim director for the Administrative Office of the Courts while the national search for a permanent director continues; Overholt said he’ll stick around long enough to ensure a smooth transition.

“My decision is based on a number of factors,” Overholt said in a news release issued this morning. “Among them is that the position of Administrative Director of the Courts has become a lightning rod for controversy, impacting the focus on budget discussions, Judicial Council governance of the judicial branch, and the AOC itself. By making this difficult choice, I hope that my decision will help refocus attention on the critical issues at hand—budget restoration, the future of the branch, and the stability of the AOC.”

Cantil-Sakauye, in the same release, called Overholt’s decision understandable but unfortunate, and said his departure “is a great loss not only for the AOC but also for the state judicial branch. But we respect his judgment that a transition is necessary at this time for him and for the court system he has served so well.”

She said his service since last July as the Administrative Office of the Courts’ interim director was “exemplary and has served to enhance access to justice and public trust and confidence in our justice system.”

San Diego’s Channel 10 news, an ABC affiliate, reported in November that Overholt and his predecessor, longtime AOC Director William Vickrey, since 2009 had “been spending tax dollars on steaks, martinis and hotel stays” with trips to Vail, Colo.; Charlotte; Boston; Santa Fe, N.M.; Denver; Indian Wells; and Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, courts across the state have had to cut workforces and service hours in order to stay afloat amid deep budget cuts.

This sparked some lawmakers’ ire. “Spending hundreds of dollars on steak and lobster and alcoholic beverages is just wrong and it’s out of touch and it’s got to stop,” Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, told Channel 10.

Fletcher has been on the warpath against the AOC as recently as last week for what he says are excessive construction costs, salaries and pensions as well as a statewide court computer system for which costs have spiraled out of control:

In today’s news release, Overholt noted that the past three budget years have “created unprecedented challenges for the state and prompted a reassessment of resources and priorities for all areas of government” and led to deep cuts and reorganizations at the AOC.

“In the anxiety-generating climate of this fiscal crisis, the AOC’s role in serving the council to advance access to justice on a statewide basis has unfairly become an easy target,” he said. “Every organization has room for improvement, and where merited, the AOC has taken corrective action and is continuing to do so. Where issues raised have been without merit, we have worked hard to correct misinformation. AOC directors, managers, and staff have devoted incredible time and effort on a daily basis to do more with less and to deliver critical services to the courts and the public.”

Overholt was the AOC’s chief deputy director for 11 years before taking the interim director’s job last summer. Before that, he was the Alameda County Superior Court’s executive officer for nine years and it’s second-in-command for three years; earlier still, he worked in the San Diego County Superior Court.

UPDATE @ 4:12 P.M.: Cantil-Sakauye just announced that the Judicial Council has approved Jody Patel as the AOC’s new interim administrative director, effective next Tuesday, Feb. 14. Patel said in a news release that she’s honored but doesn’t intend to seek the job permanently.

“When the permanent director comes on board, I hope that I can transfer to him or her a well-functioning organization and I will help in any way I can with the transition,” she said.

Patel has served since 2006 as the AOC’s regional administrative director, representing the state courts in meetings around the state and serving as a liaison to trial courts. Earlier, she had been the Sacramento County Superior Court’s executive since 2001.

UPDATE @ 3:50 P.M. FRIDAY: AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa just sent me his office’s refutation of the Channel 10 report on Overholt’s and Vickrey’s spending. Read it in its entirety, after the jump…
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Cash-strapped courts offer traffic-ticket amnesty

How hard up for cash are California’s courts? So much that they’re granting partial amnesty to traffic scofflaws.

The state’s Administrative Office of the Courts announced Thursday that Superior Courts in all 58 counties are offering a 50-percent-off discount on some old unpaid traffic tickets – a limited-time amnesty program” for certain outstanding court debt.

Only traffic tickets that were due to be paid in full before Jan. 1, 2009 are eligible, and parking tickets, driving under the influence (DUI), and reckless driving cases are not eligible. To qualify, you have to have either failed to appear in court or failed to pay in full; you can’t owe restitution to a victim on any case within the county where the traffic case was filed, and you can’t have any outstanding misdemeanor or felony warrants in that county.

The courts estimate more than six million cases statewide could qualify.

“This is a win-win,” Ronald Overholt, the interim administrative director of the courts, said in a news release. “People have an opportunity to clear their traffic tickets at a reduced cost, and the courts and the counties will get an injection of much-needed funds to help maintain critical services for the public.”

The program will begin Jan. 1 and end June 30, 2012; contact your county’s court during that time for further details.

The amnesty program was authorized by AB 1358 by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, which the state Senate approved unanimously and the Assembly approved 77-1; Gov Jerry Brown signed it into law Sunday.

California’s courts are facing an unprecedented financial crisis.

“This year, the judicial branch budget is only 2.4 percent of the state budget and we also unwillingly contributed $1.1 billion back to the General Fund,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told the State Bar of California at its annual meeting last month in Long Beach. “That’s 2.4 percent of the state budget to protect the constitutional rights of 38 million Californians, to provide a place for the resolution of civil disputes, to protect public rights, and to protect the rule of law.”


East Bay man becomes courts’ top administrator

A Danville man and former Alameda County Superior Court administrator is taking over as the California court system’s top bureaucrat, just as the courts face crippling budget cuts.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye announced today that she and the Judicial Council approved the appointment of Ronald Overholt, 59, as interim Administrative Director of the California Courts, effective Sept. 10. He’ll succeed William Vickrey, who will retire Sept. 9 after doing that job for 19 years.

“As Chief Deputy Director of the AOC for the past 11 years and as a highly experienced former trial court executive, Ron is intimately familiar with the statewide budget process and many other aspects of court administration,” Cantil-Sakauye said in a news release. “I look forward to working with Ron and have confidence that he will continue the highest standards of leadership.”

Overholt has been the Administrative Office of the Court’s chief deputy director since 2000; before that, he had been the Executive Officer, Jury Commissioner, and Clerk of the Superior Court of Alameda County. He also had been a manager in the San Diego County courts from 1979 to 1988. In 2010, he received the National Center for State Courts‘ Distinguished Service Award, one of the highest honors bestowed by the national organization. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from National University in San Diego and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from San Diego State University. Overholt and his wife, PJ, have a daughter, Blaire.

Overholt, in the news release, said he’s honored by the promotion: “I could not be more proud to be a member of the staff of the AOC and to lead its work.”

Temporarily, at least. The Judicial Council also Friday authorized Cantil-Sakauye to appoint a committee to develop a process for selecting a permanent director.

It might be a largely thankless job. The Judicial Council on Friday voted unanimously to stand by its plan for apportioning out the $350 million in cuts necessitated by the Legislature’s 2011-2012 budget. The council rejected trial judges’ pleas for deeper bureaucratic cuts to protect their courtrooms – the system’s main interface with the public – from widespread closures that will make the wheels of civil justice grind even slower.


State auditor rips courts’ computer spending

The California State Auditor’s office has brought the smacketh down upon the Administrative Office of the Courts – the “brain” of the state’s judicial system – for essentially making it up as it went along on a new statewide case management computer system, which swelled in estimated cost from $260 million in 2004 to $1.9 billion in 2010.

That's the smell of money burningThe audit (and a briefer summary here) found the AOC “inadequately planned for the statewide case management project and did not analyze whether the project would be a cost-beneficial solution to the superior courts’ needs,” and couldn’t show that it had analyses and documentation to back up its key decisions on the project’s scope and direction.

The AOC didn’t structure its contract with Deloitte Consulting LLP, the project’s development vendor, to adequately control the project’s cost and scope, the audit found; over seven years, the AOC entered into 102 amendments that boosted the cost from $33 million to $310 million by last year. And the AOC still hasn’t obtained the funding needed for statewide deployment, the audit found; without full deployment to the 58 superior courts, the project’s value is diminished. The superior courts of Los Angeles and Sacramento counties have said they won’t even adopt the system unless their concerns about it are resolved.

William VickreyAOC chief William Vickrey issued a statement today saying his agency and the Judicial Council – the state judiciary’s policy-making body – largely agrees with the audit and already has moved to correct most of the problems.

“We have increased Judicial Council oversight of the project; expanded the participation of justices, judges, court administrators, attorneys, and justice partners; and created a project management office. We are also very close to completing an independent cost-benefit analysis,” Vickrey said.

More on that, and some rebuttal from a court workers’ union, after the jump…
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