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Katy Grimes

CA Courts executive officer charging taxpayers to travel to SF office

The Administrative Office of the Courts is in the news once again, and again, it’s not good news. Known as the central bureaucracy for California’s courts, the AOC has a rich history of statewide controversy.

Following a promotion of the state judiciary’s top lobbyist to a specially created executive position at the Administrative Office of the Courts, Curtis Child, the Administrative Office of the Courts Chief Operating Officer, has been billing taxpayers for travel from his home in Sacramento to the San Francisco AOC office where he works, according to Courthouse News Service and the Alliance of California Judges.

Curtis Child, the former AOC lobbyist, has been billing taxpayers for lodging, tolls, parking, and travel costs of working from Sacramento,  where he lives, when the AOC office and 223 employees he manages are in San Francisco, the Alliance of California Judges and Courthouse News reported.

Who could forget the debacle of the $2 billion California courts computer system, paid with money allotted for state trial court operations. This unbelievably high cost was spent on a faulty computer system while courtrooms have closed, courthouse employees furloughed, and criminal and civil cases take record time to come to trial.

 Court Computer mess

The cost of the Court Case Management System increased from the original estimate of $260 million in 2004, to a staggering $2 billion by 2011, and costs an additional $79 million a year to maintain. And the courthouses aren’t even linked in the system, as had been expected and promised. The computer system cost could rise to $3 billion.

Judges angered — again

I was contacted by the Alliance of California Judges, a group working for many different types of reforms in the California judiciary. The judges are outraged at Curtis Child’s expenses, and provided me information, as well as an email thread of communications between Donna S. Hershkowitz, Director 
of Court Operations Special Services Office, and, Judge Maryanne Gilliard, Alliance Director.

The Alliance of California Judges was formed in 2009 in response to the “unprecedented financial crisis now facing our judicial branch.” The judges want “to insure that our courts remain open and accessible, to insure accountable local management of the California courts, to guarantee financial responsibility, to minimize statewide bureaucracy, and to insure a strong preference for local flexibility in the conduct of court affairs.”

Chief Operating Officer

The position of COO was created in response to the devastating critique of the Administrative Office of the Courts, contained in the 2012 SEC report.  It was supposed to be part of the reform of the AOC.  “From the looks of it, meaningful reform of the AOC will take a lot more than just reshuffling the players and relabeling the organizational chart,” According to the Alliance of Judges.

Alliance director Maryanne Gilliard has been trying to get Mr. Child’s travel claims from the AOC.  At first, they sent what they told her were three months’ worth of claims.  Then she was told that Mr. Child got reimbursed for three more claims, and that the new information would be forthcoming.  Now she’s being told that she’s only getting information about paid claims because there’s no public interest in claims that were submitted but not yet paid.

AOC Chief Operating Officer

The Chief Operating Officer is one of the top four officials in the AOC chain of command.  According to the official class description, the COO “directs the day-to-day operations of the Administrative Office of the Courts.”  The COO is in charge of the Judicial and Court Operations Services Division, which includes the Center for Families, Children & the Courts; the Court Operations Special Services Office; the Criminal Justice Court Services Office; the Judicial Branch Capital Program Office; and the Office of Appellate Court Services.  Two hundred twenty-three AOC employees work for the COO.

According to the Alliance of California Judges, Mr. Child previously worked as the director of the Office of Governmental Affairs—the AOC’s chief lobbyist.  He lobbied against a legislative audit of the CCMS project (the Recorder article referenced here).  He lobbied against AB 1208, to remove the Judicial Council from its responsibility and authority to allocate funds to trial courts.

Since his promotion to COO, he earns a salary of $192,590, none of which he has to pay toward his pension, according to Alliance judges.

Here is the information the Alliance judges sent to me:

The AOC is based in San Francisco, where the vast majority of the employees—185 out of 223—are under Mr. Child’s supervision.

Mr. Child lives in Sacramento.  Mr. Child’s travel expense claims going back to last February reveal that although he’s in charge of the day-to-day operations of a San Francisco-based bureaucracy the public is paying extra for his meals and hotel bills whenever he stays in San Francisco.

In June 2013, for example, he put in claims for lodging, tolls, and parking to attend staff meetings in San Francisco.  In May 2013, he sought reimbursement for four nights at a hotel in the City—at rates between $140 and $190 a night—so that he could attend staff meetings, subcommittee meetings, and a dinner honoring the Supreme Court.  In April, he spent a night in the City in order to meet with the Judicial Council and with staff.  The most curious expense claim came in November 2013, when he put in for $183 for a hotel and meals so he could go to meetings and attend former Chief Justice George’s book signing. Every month, Mr. Child spends anywhere between one and five nights at hotels in San Francisco. On each of his travel expense claims, he lists his “headquarters address” as the AOC office in Sacramento. 

These expense claims raise a bigger question: How can the person responsible for supervising the day-to-day operations of a giant San Francisco-based bureaucracy possibly do a good job if he’s based in Sacramento and if he visits just a few times a month?

Curt Child epitomizes the problem with the AOC.  He is closely associated with CCMS, computer system blunder, yet he got a promotion.  Child is getting perks and benefits while clerks, reporters, and interpreters suffer cutbacks.  Many ask how he can be an effective manager if he’s in a completely different city from his large workforce?

Managers who manage from 90 miles away.  Travel expense claims for book signings.  Incomplete responses to information requests.  Stonewalling. 

Join us in urging the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to audit the AOC and the Judicial Council.  You may also add your name to the more than 500 judges of the Alliance by visiting our website. 

The judges included the entire e-mail string between Donna S. Hershkowitz, Director 
of Court Operations Special Services Office, and, Judge Maryanne Gilliard, Alliance Director,  below:

________________________________________________________
From: “Hershkowitz, Donna” <donna.hershkowitz@jud.ca.gov>Date: March 7, 2014 4:09:06 PM PST To: Maryanne Gilliard <___________.com Cc: Pubinfo <pubinfo@jud.ca.gov>Subject: RE: Request for Records

Judge Gilliard – I will be able to provide the additional travel claims on Monday.

I do want to be clear, however, that what you will be receiving are the paid claims.  Pursuant to Rule 10.500 (f)(12) — which does not require disclosure of records if, on the facts of the specific request for records, the public interest served by nondisclosure of the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record — the AOC releases travel expense claims only for claims that have been paid.  Paid claims are tracked in the Phoenix sys-tem and can be appropriately and readily identified in response to requests for information.  Unpaid claims on the other hand might be located in a variety of places while the appropriate staff is reviewing them before submission to the State Controller for payment. Providing submitted claims can result in confusion as the claims could be counted twice (once when submitted, once when paid), or could have different amounts if the AOC Accounting Office or the State Controller determines a claimed expense is not reimbursable.  Paid claims contain the final amounts paid by the agency.

DSH

From: Maryanne Gilliard [mailto:______________.com]  Sent: Wednesday, March 05, 2014 7:50 PM To: Hershkowitz, Donna Subject: Re: Request for Records

Dear Ms. Hershkowitz,

I am not surprised that there were more outstanding travel expense claims not provided to me.  I thank you for your honesty in admitting to such. It does con-cern me that one must be so precise in requesting information from an organiza-tion that purports to “serve the court’s” for the benefit of all Californians.

In any event, it appears that those travel expense claims could be easily scanned and provided to me by tomorrow at noon or at least by the close of business. I know that you will make your best efforts to ensure that I receive what was re-quested a month ago.

To be clear, I am requesting any and all travel and or expense claims of any kind submitted, paid, rejected, revised,  or in any manner submitted by Curtis Child for the last four months. I now am asking for the last four months so that I am as-sured that I  will actually receive the documents for the period of time requested a month ago.

Thank you for your attention to this matter,
Judge Maryanne Gilliard

On Mar 5, 2014, at 6:25 PM, “Hershkowitz, Donna” <donna.hershkowitz@jud.ca.gov>wrote:
Judge Gilliard – What I provided you were the claims that had been paid for the past three months – not what Mr. Child had submitted for payment, but what have been paid.  I have just learned that 3 other expense claims were just paid. I believe these claims are all related to travel in January.  I should be able to for-ward these to you by the end of the week.

Thank you.

DSH

From: Maryanne Gilliard [mailto: ________.com]  Sent: Wednesday, March 05, 2014 1:26 PM To: Hershkowitz, Donna Subject: Re: Request for Records

Dear Ms. Hershkowitz,

I am in receipt of two travel expense claims provided by you. One dated Novem-ber 27th, 2013 and the second, December 6th, 2013.

As you know I requested three months of such claims.

Are you indicating that Mr. Child did not submit a travel expense claim for either January or February  of 2014?

Judge Maryanne Gilliard

On Mon, Mar 3, 2014 at 6:41 PM, Hershkowitz, Donna <donna.hershkowitz@jud.ca.gov>wrote:
Judge Gilliard – Attached are the travel expense claims for Mr. Child paid in the last 3 months.  There were only 2 claims.

This email, coupled with the email I sent on 2/28, completes the response to your request for information.

Thank you.

DSH

Donna S. Hershkowitz, Director
Office of Appellate Court Services and Court Operations Special Services Office
Judicial Council of California – Administrative Office of the Courts
2255 N. Ontario Street, Suite 220
Burbank, CA 91504

455 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102-3688

Phone 818-558-3068
Fax 415-865-4329
donna.hershkowitz@jud.ca.gov

“Serving the courts for the benefit of all Californians”

From: Hershkowitz, Donna  Sent: Friday, February 28, 2014 3:00 PM To: Maryanne Gilliard Cc: Pubinfo; Child, Curtis Subject: Request for Records

Judge Gilliard – In response to your request for information, attached is a list that contains Curt Child’s direct reports as well as the name of all individuals in Mr. Child’s division. The list includes the individual’s name, title, office worked (e.g. Capital Branch Program Office, Court Operations Special Services Office, etc) as well as the location in which each individual is headquartered (San Francisco, Sacramento, or Burbank).

I anticipate being able to provide you Mr. Child’s Travel Expense Claims for the past three months.

Thank you for your inquiry.

DSH

Donna S. Hershkowitz, Director
Office of Appellate Court Services and Court Operations Special Services Office
Judicial Council of California – Administrative Office of the Courts
2255 N. Ontario Street, Suite 220
Burbank, CA 91504

455 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102-3688

Phone 818-558-3068
Fax 415-865-4329
donna.hershkowitz@jud.ca.gov

“Serving the courts for the benefit of all Californians”

From: Maryanne Gilliard [mailto:________.com]  Sent: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 10:08 AM To: Hershkowitz, Donna Cc: Pubinfo Subject: Re: Travel expense claims

Ms. Hershkowitz,

I would like to know who his “direct reports” are and where they are physically located—San Francisco or somewhere else. I would further like the same infor-mation with respect to all staff in his division.

Thank you very much,
Judge Gilliard
On Tue, Feb 18, 2014 at 8:33 AM, Hershkowitz, Donna <donna.hershkowitz@jud.ca.gov>wrote:
Thank you for your inquiry Judge Gilliard.

We are working on your request.  We will respond soon with an estimate of the time it will take to produce these re-cords.  One clarification on your question regarding Mr. Child’s supervisory duties – are you requesting information on the entire staff in his division, or only on those characterized as his “direct reports.”

DSH  Donna S. Hershkowitz, Director Office of Appellate Court Services and Court Operations Special Services Office Judicial Council of California – Administrative Office of the Courts 2255 N. Ontario Street, Suite 220 Burbank, CA 91504  455 Golden Gate Avenue San Francisco, CA 94102-3688  Phone 818-558-3068 Fax 415-865-4329donna.hershkowitz@jud.ca.gov  “Serving the courts for the benefit of all Californians”     —–Original Message—– From: Maryanne Gilliard [mailto: ________.com] Sent: Monday, February 17, 2014 8:04 PM To: Hershkowitz, Donna Subject: Travel expense claims

Dear Ms. Hershkowitz,

I hope that you are enjoying your new job which takes you to San Francisco.

In that vein, I am requesting the travel expense claims generated by Mr. Curtis Child for the past three months. As these are documents maintained in the regular course of business, I assume you should be able to provide these to me in short order.

It is my understanding that Mr. Child is responsible for supervising a certain number of staff in San Francisco. In that regard, I would also appreciate a copy of any organizational chart or any other document that reflects Mr. Child’s current  supervisory duties, including the actual number of persons in San Francisco he directly supervises.

I thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter.
Regards, Judge Maryanne Gilliard

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