Judicial Feud has a new Battleground
There has been a years-long, multi-party feud within California’s judicial system and that feud has a new battleground: bail reform. The power struggle started in 2002 after the decision by the Legislature and then Gov. Gray Davis to consolidate county-governed courts into a statewide system managed by the state Judicial Council, chaired by the Supreme Court’s chief justice, and its Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). Over time, several local judges began to resent the arbitrary management decisions by the Judicial Council and the bureaucracy that, in their eyes, starved trial courts of funds they needed to handle huge increases in civil and criminal caseloads. This eventually led to the creation of the Alliance of California Judges, which broke with the California Judges Association and advocated a more confrontational approach. The Alliance of California Judges hailed a report by state auditor Elaine Howle that mildly criticized the Judicial Council’s purchasing processes. The Alliance stated,
This is yet another blow to the branch occurring right before state budgeting action. The Judicial Council/AOC is the same entity that brought shame on the judicial branch for wasting over a half billion dollars on a failed IT project.
Focal points in the feud were a massive courthouse construction program and a computerized statewide case management system that cost hundreds of millions of dollars but could not be made operational. The most likely battleground in 2018 is pending legislation, Senate Bill 10, which would overhaul the bail system for criminal defendants, while reducing the power of judges to set cash bail and instead relying on newly created “pre-trial services” agencies in local court systems to determine whether defendants can be released without bail. When the court system was consolidated, a huge new state agency was created with nearly 20,000 mostly unionized employees and a budget that is now over $3.5 billion a year. Senate Bill 10 would enlarge the system even more by adding potentially thousands of new workers in “pre-trial services” agencies.
California cannot make the same mistakes they did in states such as New Jersey and New Mexico by ending monetary bail.