Have a Thankful holiday!

Starting today, the CCM is taking a break over Thanksgiving and will begin posting your daily ration of justice rationing again on Monday. And to those who have asked about increased judicial election coverage, we’re working on that. So stay tuned. And know that we are tankful of your attention and continued support.
— The editors.

Chevron ‘Donziger’ case wrapping up in NYC

One of the most-watched civil cases in the country, pitting California-based Chevron against what the New York Times called a “freelance” attorney, is headed for closing arguments this week in New York City. Over the last few weeks a parade of witnesses have testified about bribes, perjury and other allegations. The trial, before a federal judge not a jury, even has a de facto YouTube channel as parts of Joe Berlinger’s documentary “Crude” are posted.
At issue is a previous trial in Ecuador that resulted in judgement of more than $9 billion against Chevron, based on work done by Texaco before the later company was acquired by Chevron. In part, the case has become famous after a judge ordered that outtakes from the Berlinger movie could be seen as evidence for Chevron, not just the whole film. The unused footage apparently shows very candid conversations about intimidating judges and misrepresenting evidence, and is posted all over YouTube. Chevron is, in effect, suing Donziger under RICO laws.
Any Google search returns plenty of stories, but let us recommend this recent report from the New York Times that includes “… one after another, the witnesses, including some of his closest allies and financiers who are now estranged from his cause, have testified that Mr. Donziger committed witness tampering and fraud.” Read that here.
And for a more recent report, that’s much more sympathetic for Donziger, check out this interview-focused  Adam Klasfeld piece in the Courthouse News Service.

‘King George’ Book Keeps Quotes Coming

Reports from the “King George” book signings keep making the rounds, including comments from a Berkley event where retired Los Angeles County Judge Charles Horan was quoted as saying “[Former Chief Justice Ronald M. George) never had enough power… I don’t know of a judge who hasn’t referred to him as King George. That was standard.”

The Courthouse News reports that “… while in California’s top judicial post, George was a principal force behind the centralization of California’s trial courts. Legislation in 1997 gave control of court rules and the roughly $3 billion court budget to California’s Judicial Council, where the chief justice chairs the meetings, votes and appoints 14 of the 21 voting members. The legislation also resulted in a huge growth in the personnel and power of the central court bureaucracy, where the chief justice is the staff’s ultimate boss.”

Judge George’s book, “Chief: The Quest for Justice in California,” has placed him back into the spotlight. At a recent event at the UC Berkeley campus, the CN reported, he was “… surrounded by shelves of books and reading tables. A space had been cleared for about 40 guests that included the current Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the administrative office director of operations Curt Child and colleagues, lawyers and family members. Proceeds from the book are being donated to the school.”
Keep up with the legacy discussion here.

Interpreter Dispute: Hundreds Protest Across 7 Counties

More than 900 interpreters across seven Central California counties picketed this week to raise awareness about ongoing negotiations between the union for interpreters and the Administrative Office of the Courts, the management arm of the state judicial system, according to various media reports.
While gone more than a half-decade without a pay raise is noted, the core of the issue is another “outsourcing” cost-cutting plan. The idea is to use “centralized” remote video interpreting. This would often replace humans who make $35 per hour. They are paid by the state, but via the court system. The Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper explained that “… video remote interpreting uses video cameras, computers and an interpreter in a remote location to translate rather than having a live interpreter in court.” The paper cited a union spokesperson explaining that “… there is concern from interpreters that the video service would violate the right to due process and compromise attorney client privilege.” 
The talks continue today (Friday, Nov. 22) and there’s no speculation yet if other unions might join in any further actions. Read the Sentinel story here.

Judicial Friction Story in Sacramento Bee

Dan Walters, who covers courts for the Sacramento Bee, has an interesting background story about continuing friction in the California judiciary. He offers a good history of the major players, writing that “… when Tani Cantil-Sakauye became California’s chief justice nearly three years ago, she inherited a nasty judicial squabble from her polarizing predecessor, Ron George.”
Walters reminds us that “… George had persuaded the Legislature to have the state assume financial and operational control of what had been a locally managed court system, thus making him the boss of an immense state agency [and] many local judges resented what they saw as George’s autocratic style of governance through a State Judicial Council and an Administrative Office of the Courts that he controlled, dubbing him “King George.”
But the reporter, who has the personal background to back his opinion, also says that “… resentments flared into open political warfare with the creation of the anti-George Alliance of California Judges, and the infighting intensified when a chronic state budget crisis squeezed the courts.” It’s a timely story making the rounds as the Office of Courts considers opening some of its committee meetings, where most of the actual decisions are made. Read it here.

Heads Up: New Court Committees Target Budget, Access

While the debate over public access to court-management committee meetings gathers steam (see immediate previous post), anyone wondering about the significance of those groups need only look a bit deeper into new committees being formed on hot-button issues – like budget and access. Given that the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is sometimes blamed for “rubber stamping” committee work, a skeptic might suggest that pushing debate into committee or even sub-committee meetings effectively removes discussion from citizen oversight.
The budget committee would, among other things, “… report to the council on AOC contracts that meet established criteria to ensure that the contracts are in support of judicial branch policy” and “… review proposed updates and revisions to the Judicial Branch Contracting Manual.” For a system facing debate over how much work can be farmed out to private contractors, as opposed to re-hiring employees, that’s an important discussion. 
Another group, actually a sub-group of a committee and led by a “committee co-chair” will tackle “… physical, programmatic, and language access; fairness in the courts; and diversity in the judicial branch.” Given that legal action against the Los Angeles Superior Court reorganization focuses on physical and other access issues, that’s another great debate.
And of course, all this helps create context for the 2014 state budget battle. Read between the lines at the State website.

Judicial Council ‘Open Meetings’ Plan Draws Complaints

It turns out that good news about open committee meetings at the California Judicial Council comes with at least 17 strings attached. That’s how many exceptions there are, including for issues like “consideration of raw data,” that would evade public eyes whenever the judges like.
Reporters and newspaper advocates are among those commenting on the rules, with court officials stressing that this is just an early draft. Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, told The Courthouse News that “… this is really open to wide discretion by whoever is on the committee… the exemptions they have created are very, very broad.”
The report also notes that “… the Judicial Council has a history of making decisions in closed-door committees followed by open Judicial Council sessions where the committee decisions are unanimously approved with little or no debate. Trial judges have said the council simply ‘rubber stamps’ the decisions made secretly by the committees.”
There’s more from Court House News here

2014 L.A.S.C. Elections Featuring D.A. Hopefuls

It seems another member of the District Attorney team might be headed to the bench, or at least to the ballot. The MetNews is reporting that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph E. DiLoreto has indicated that he will not seek reelection, and has endorsed Deputy District Attorney Christopher J. Frisco to fill his upcoming vacancy.
In the L.A. courts community, such an “endorsement” can be a virtual hand-off, but this year some groups are whispering about breaking with tradition and pushing for new judicial blood. Until that happens, we can expect candidates to continue to announce in order to let potential opponents know they have the “insider” status. The MetNews, which BTW is the leader in court election coverage by a long shot, notes that Frisco’s “… campaign advisor and treasurer is David L. Gould, a consultant who is also advising other judicial aspirants in the District Attorney’s Office, including Andrew Cooper, Alison Matsumoto Estrada, Donna Hollingsworth Armstrong, and Stacy Okun-Wiese.”

For more about the election, and other candidates, check out the report here.

2014 Judicial Election Cycle Gets Started

We don’t yet know how many Los Angeles Superior Court judgeships will be up for election next year, but at least four candidates are hoping to take the familiar path from the District Attorney office to the bench. From various reports and announcements, they include Alison Matsumoto Estrada, Stacy Okun-Wiese, Donna Hollingsworth Armstrong and Andrew Cooper.
Typically, judicial careers in L.A. Superior Court begin with an appointment by the governor and few judges face contested elections. Some critics have suggested this is because the “culture” is that anyone challenging a seated judge can face negative reactions in court, both from that judge and even others. The early announcements for next year’s race suggest a more robust election cycle, and budget challenges are already a top issue.
Read about Andrew Cooper at MetNews here and about the other three candidates and find some campaign links here.

In Sacramento, New Presiding Judge Confronts ‘Crisis’

“Keeping the doors open will be a major accomplishment in and of itself,” says the incoming presiding judge of the Sacramento Superior Court in an interview with The Courthouse News. The story notes that Judge Robert Hight says he feels he hopes “… to make good use of hard times [because] a good crisis is always the best place to make major changes.”
“The biggest challenge is clearly budget and how can we provide a level of services the public deserves given the budget that we have,” Hight told the CN. Along with the judges comments, the story offers a good brief history of several court trends, dating back to the days of the initial round of case management system backlogs, circa 2007.