The Judicial Council is the administrative policy making body of California state courts. It is chaired by the state Supreme Court chief justice. The Administrative Office of the Courts (
On November 2, 1926, California voters approved a constitutional amendment establishing the Judicial Council as the policymaker for the judicial branch of state government.
In 1997, state legislation changed a fundamental relationship between the state and trial courts, establishing a unified, statewide funding system. Until then, the state’s 58 counties provided day-to-day financial services and systems for the trial courts that operated within their boundaries. The Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act of 1997 shifted funding for the courts from individual counties to the state. The act also gave the Judicial Council/
In May 1999, the council adopted the one-day or one-trial jury system that limited the time prospective jurors had to make themselves available to the court. Other improvements made at the time included new rules that allowed jurors to take notes and ask questions of witnesses.
In 2001, the council launched the California Courts Online Self-Help Center to improve court access for litigants without attorneys and added a Spanish-language version two years later.
The Trial Court Facilities Act of 2002 transferred ownership and management of all trial court facilities from counties to the state.
A major reorganization of the California Rules of the Court was approved by the council and took effect in 2007. The reorganization involved the reordering and renumbering of more than 1,000 rules and 38 standards of judicial administration.
After years of discussing ways to best unify the California courts statewide, the
Fact Sheet (The People’s Legal Center) (pdf)
Phoenix Program: Statewide Human Resources and Financial System Upgrade and Other Services (Judicial Branch home)
The Judicial Council has 21 voting members consisting of the Supreme Court chief justice, 14 judges selected by the chief justice, four attorneys selected by the State Bar Board of Governors, and one member from each house of the Legislature.
The council also has six advisory members which include the president of the California Judges Association and other court executives and administrators.
The Judicial Council’s day-to-day activities are run by the Administrative Office of the Courts (
Although the Judicial Council and the chief justice ostensibly are in charge of the state judicial system, the
Appellate and Trial Court Judicial Services Division provides judicial assignment, appointed counsel, case coordination and case management services.
Center for Families, Children & the Courts supports programs in collaborative justice, domestic violence, language access, mentally ill court users, services to self-represented litigants, tribal projects and veterans’ courts.
Education Division/Center for Judicial Education and Research offers educational curricula for judges, and court and
Executive Office Programs Division provides support for the Judicial Council and key internal and advisory committees in areas related to planning, communications and research.
Finance Division provides budget planning, asset management, accounting, procurement, and contract management for the entire judicial branch.
Human Resources Division assists the courts in areas of recruitment, pay and benefits administration, labor relations, disability management, human resources information technology and personnel policy development.
Information Services Division manages statewide technology projects and facilitates information accessibility.
Trial Court Administrative Services Division manages the Phoenix Program, a statewide technology initiative that includes the Phoenix Financial System and the Phoenix Human Resources System. Both programs link courthouses at the county level with the rest of the judicial system.
Office of Court Construction and Management manages court facilities, including construction and renovation.
Office of the General Counsel provides legal advice and services to the chief justice, the Judicial Council, the
Office of Governmental Affairs, located in Sacramento, facilitates relations with the executive and legislative branches of government, including matters concerning the budget and court-related legislation.
Regional Offices—Three offices in northern, central and southern California facilitate communications with courts at the local level. Their primary focus is operations: technology, finance, legal matters and human resources.
Five internal committees report to the Judicial Council.
California Court Case Management System (CCMS) Internal Committee reports to the council on the computer system’s development and progress, and advises the council on CCMS policy-related decisions.
Executive and Planning Committee sets the agenda for council meetings, develops the judicial branch’s long-range strategic plan, directs the nominating process for vacancies on the council and its advisory committees, oversees some of the advisory committees and task forces and develops policies and procedures related to court facilities and communications.
Litigation Management Committee oversees litigation and claims against the courts, the council, and the
Policy Coordination and Liaison Committee represents the council in communications with the Legislature, the governor, bar associations and local governments. It reviews pending legislation and makes recommendations to the council on pending bills.
Rules and Projects Committee oversees the process of developing the California Rules of Court, the California Standards of Judicial Administration and Judicial Council forms.
Administrative Office of the Courts (Judicial Branch website)
Administrative Office of the Courts Fact Sheet (Judicial Branch website) (pdf)
Internal Committees (Judicial Branch website)
The Judicial Council not only receives an annual budget from the state of around $139.5 million, it oversees budget requests to the governor and the Legislature for the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, trial courts and the Administrative Office of the Courts. It then allocates the money.
The total judicial branch budget for 2012-13 is pegged at $3.7 billion, but around $558.5 million of that is earmarked for infrastructure, including construction and renovation of court buildings. The courts are also in the middle of developing a $1.9 billion computer system.
The operating budget for the court system, which is overwhelming devoted to the trial courts, is around $3.1 billion. But $1.2 billion of that is non-reducible fixed costs, including judges’ salaries and court security provided by sheriffs.
The courts, like other areas of government, saw significant budget cuts as the economy worsened at the end of the new century’s first decade. They saw a 30% reduction in state General Funds over the three years beginning in fiscal year 2009-10. The Legislature slashed the judicial budget by $350 million in 2011-12, resulting in dramatic cutbacks in services, long delays in assigning court dates, courthouse closures and staff layoffs. The 58 county-based Superior Courts suffered a 6.8% loss of funds. The Supreme Court and six regional appellate courts were cut 9.7% and the
Further cuts were proposed for the following year.
3-Year Budget (pdf)
California Budget Cuts to Courts Reignites Judges' War (by Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee)
Budget Cuts to Worsen California Court Delays, Officials Say (by Maura Dolan and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times)
A Billion-Dollar Boondoggle?
The Judicial Council began talking about a statewide computer system in 1998 after voters approved Proposition 220 and began the process of unifying California’s Municipal and Superior Courts. A year earlier, the Legislature had established the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and put in place a funding scheme that functioned at the state, not local, level.
By 2003, the
More than 200 representatives from 29 countries have worked on the project and when it is completed in 2016 it will have cost $1.9 billion.
As of 2012, it was a mess.
The California State Auditor said the project was poorly planned from the outset. Her 2011 report said the
And if it is finally, successfully deployed, the auditor said, it probably won’t be around for long. “The useful life of CCMS may be very short after it begins to achieve a positive return on investment in fiscal year 2019-20. The technology will be almost 10 years old when fully deployed. Our IT expert believes there is significant risk that the technology could be outdated shortly after its full deployment in fiscal year 2016-17.”
But, as Justice Terence Bruiniers, a state appellate court judge, pointed out, not everything in the auditor’s report was negative. “I think it’s important to emphasize that the audit does not recommend ending the project,” he wrote.
While substantial questions have been raised about the project’s future, scarce dollars during a crushing budget deficit are being diverted from day-to-day running of the courts to develop the project. Courthouses are closing, court date delays are growing longer, staff is being let go, lines are lengthening and fears have arisen about the collapse of the judicial system in parts of the state.
Superior Courts in Los Angeles and Sacramento have expressed an unwillingness to implement the system in its current form if, or when, it is up and running.
In a recent survey of state judges circulated by Justice Arthur Scotland, Sacramento Judge Kevin McCormick ripped the system that started out with a price tag of $260 million and which, if some worst-case scenarios come true, could go as high as $3 billion. “Not [a] single dollar should be spent on this system until it is certain the expenditures will not cause court closures, reduced hours or layoffs of courtroom staff. Expending any money on a computer system with such a flawed financial history is unjustified.”
In March 2012, the Judicial Council voted to delay deployment of the system and allocated $8.7 million to study ways to use existing technology instead. It stopped short of mothballing the project.
“I believe that 10 years ago, a case management system was a farsighted vision, but a statewide connected system is just not feasible in the current climate and in the foreseeable future,” said council member Yolo County Judge David Rosenberg. “It's just too expensive.”
State Bar President Jon Streeter disagreed. “California will become, if this system is suspended or abandoned, one of the states that brings up the rear in terms of automation nationwide. We should not be in that position. We should be leading.”
Audit: State Courts Computer System Massively Over Budget (by Ryan Gabrielson, California Watch)
Computer Mess Jeopardizes Court's Political Clout (by Paul Ellis, Associated Press)
California Court Case Management System (CCMS) (Judicial Branch website)
Consultant for Court IT System Is Facing Lawsuits in California Over Software Systems (by Bill Girdner and David Tartre, Courthouse News Service)
Judge Pines v. AOC Finance (Courthouse News Service)
Auditor Review of CCMS (State Auditor) (pdf)
Judge Bangs on Bureaucrats' Door (by Bill Girdner, Courthouse News Service)
California Judicial Council Halts Court Case Management System (by Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee)
The Trial Court's Rights Act of 2011
The 400-member Alliance of California Judges has sought the assistance of the Legislature against one of their own: the chief justice of the California Supreme Court. The judges sponsored The Trial Court's Rights Act of 2011 in an attempt to rein in the authority of the Administrative Office of the Courts, which operates as the administrative arm of the Judicial Council that is headed by the chief justice.
The judges feel that money is being steered away from the desperately needy courts to pay for a burgeoning bureaucracy and a suspect computer system. They argue that policies and funding decisions are made without their input, against their wishes and not always in their best interests.
The legislation would recognize the right of each court to “manage its administrative and financial affairs in accordance with its own policy.” Taking a direct swipe at the
The legislation would guarantee that “all funds allocated for trial court operations, once appropriated, shall be fully allocated among the trial courts.”
AB 1208–Trial Court Rights Act of 2011 (Legislative Counsel’s Digest) (pdf)
Majority Leader Introduces Trial Court Bill of Rights (by Maria Dinzeo, Courthouse News Service)
Judges Group Frustrated by Cuts, Wants Changes in Judicial Council (by Raul Hernandez, Ventura County Star)
Who Should Run the Courts?
It seemed like a good idea at the time. In 1997, California had 58 separate county trial courts, each funded at the local level. Services were as uneven between them as their funding bases. And so, arguably, was the standard of justice. Unifying the courts in a single system would save money and serve justice well.
But is that true? The state beefed up the authority of the Judicial Council and created an elaborate bureaucracy, the Administrative Office of the Courts (
Fourteen years later, judges in the local courts were in open conflict with the
Decentralize the State Court System
On March 15, 2011, Judge Maryanne G. Gillard, put it succinctly on behalf of the Association of California Judges which she heads: “The AOC is simply out of control. Its excesses have harmed the judiciary's reputation immeasurably,” Gillard wrote in the Daily Journal, a legal publication.
Gillard says the Alliance is not out to dismantle statewide rules that ensure the fair and consistent administration of justice. They don’t want to tamper with the Judicial Council’s constitutional rule making authority. But they want control of the judiciary returned to judges and believe that can be accomplished with relatively simple legislation that outlines the authority of trial judges over budgeting and policy matters.
Critics of the
While the Information Services Division announces new hires daily to work on its failed billion-dollar Court Case Management System, critical courtroom staff are being laid off. Courthouses are being closed and hours curtailed even as new building are being built. Backlogs of cases are piling up and hours are spent in courthouse lines to accomplish simple legal tasks.
The Centralized Court System Works
Supporters of centralized control of the California judiciary say the
Judge David Rosenberg of Yolo County agrees. “When times are good you don't hear a lot of criticism,” he said during a panel discussion of trial judges in September 2011. “When times are bad the criticism is brought to the fore.”
The centralizing process was begun in the late ‘90s by Chief Justice Ronald M. George with the goal of having a uniformity of rules in the courts and a fair, stable statewide funding base for the courts. In the process, two parallel court systems with duplicative activites and 85 separate trial courts were brought under central control. Many think it was a good idea then, and now.
Supporters of the current system, like Appellate Justice Douglas Miller, argue that the council and its administrative office are in a constant state of reform and that there is no need for more trial judge autonomy to affect change. “We have a new chief justice, new members of the judicial council and changes at the
The lightening rod for critics of the Judicial Council and the
Untold benefits are possible when the 58 trial courts and their 70 plus computer systems can talk to each other, sharing vital information and streamlining court processes. Judges and law enforcement will be able to have real-time access to each other.
Who Really Runs the Judicial Branch? (by Judge Maryanne G. Gilliard, director of the Alliance of California Judges, published in the Daily Journal)
California Court Administrators Clash With Judges Over Cuts (by Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times)
Court News Roundup and Open Thread (
Order in the Courts? How About in the Judicial Council and the AOC? (Judicial Council Watcher)
31 Days – The Chief Justice & Judicial Council’s Crafty, Predictable Ploy (Judicial Council Watcher)
Trial Judges Question Direction of Courts (by Maria Dinzeo, Courthouse News Service)
Hon. Ronald M. George, 1996–2011
Hon. Malcolm M. Lucas, 1987–1996
Hon. Rose Elizabeth Bird, 1977–1986. Appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, Bird was the first woman to serve on the California Supreme Court and the first justice to be removed by the voters. Her controversial tenure was marked by her opposition to the death penalty, the “use-a-gun, go-to-jail” law and other liberal positions.
Hon. Donald R. Wright, 1970–1977
Hon. Roger J. Traynor, 1964–1970
Hon. Phil S. Gibson, 1940–1964
Hon. William H. Waste, 1926–1940
Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, sworn in as chief justice in January 2011, is the first Asian- American and second woman to hold the top post on the High Court.
She attended C.K. McClatchy High School and Sacramento City College before graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in 1980 from the University of California, Davis. She received her JD from Martin Luther King, Jr. School of Law in 1984.
After graduation, Cantil-Sakauye worked as a deputy district attorney in the Sacramento County DA’s office before taking a job in 1988 on Governor George Deukmejian’s senior staff. During her tenure there, she served as deputy legal affairs secretary and as a deputy legislative secretary.
Deukmejian appointed Cantil-Sakauye to the Sacramento Municipal Court in 1990 and seven years later Governor Pete Wilson elevated her to the Superior Court of Sacramento County. In that position, she established and presided over the first court in Sacramento dedicated solely to domestic violence issues. She also chaired the court’s criminal law committee and was a member of the presiding judge’s task force on domestic violence.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated her to the Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, in 2005. Three years later, Chief Justice Ronald M. George picked her for a spot on the Judicial Council where she has served as vice-chair of the Executive and Planning Committee, vice-chair of the Rules and Projects Committee, chair of the Advisory Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency for the Judicial Branch, and co-chair of the Judicial Recruitment and Retention Working Group.
Cantil-Sakauye has been a member of the California Commission for Impartial Courts and the Judicial Council's Domestic Violence Practice and Procedure Task Force. She is president of the Anthony M. Kennedy American Inn of Court, an organization focused on civility, ethics and professionalism in the legal profession. She has been a Supreme Court-selected special master since 2007, hearing disciplinary proceedings before the Judicial Council.
Cantil-Sakauye is married to retired police Lieutenant Mark Sakauye and has two daughters.
About the Chief (Judicial Branch website)