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Courts Audit Summary Report

Courts Audit Summary Report

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Published by Terry Francke
Californians Aware's audit of state judicial branch practices permitting public access to their administrative records under Rule of Court 10.500
Californians Aware's audit of state judicial branch practices permitting public access to their administrative records under Rule of Court 10.500

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Published by: Terry Francke on Mar 29, 2014
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08/20/2014

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Californians Aware Audit Report: Public Access to Courts’ Administrative Records
Courts Ready to Share Basic Information on How They’re Run—If Properly Asked
California courts are generally prompt and forthcoming in sharing with the public basic information about how they are administered, including specifics about the pay, benefits, and outside financial interests of judges and key executives. But they could do a better job of informing the public of its right of access to such information.  ______________________________________________________________________________ 
UPDATE:
This report earlier stated, “
 And the Administrative Office of the Courts has been  singularly unrevealing.”
The statement was based on the apparent failure of the AOC to provide most of the information responsive to our March 2, 2013 request. The AOC contends that it did send a reply email to CalAware with most of the information included on March 29. We have no record of receiving that email, but do not wish to contest AOC’s assurance that it was sent. In any event, the last of the information requested was received at CalAware only on September 5. Thus the initial response—an acknowledgment of receipt—was sent on March 8, making the time for initial response six days, the final message completing the response was sent 52 days after CalAware’ last request clarification and 221 days after the March request. ______________________________________________________________________________ This conclusion reflects results of an audit of the trial and appellate court systems throughout the state conducted by Californians Aware throughout 2013, checking how readily and completely they responded to information requests as required under a judicial branch disclosure mandate— Rule of Court 10.500 —that went into effect four years ago.Access to the records of most state and local agencies is governed by the California Public Records Act (CPRA), but that law does not apply to the judicial branch. Instead, the state court system for the first time opened its administrative books to public review with Rule 10.500, whose provisions in most respects parallel those of the CPRA.
 
(Records of trials and other judicial proceedings—case records—have long been presumed open to the public under common law in California as well as all other states. Rule 10.500 instead applies to records of how the courts are run, at what cost, and the like.)
Records Requested Superior Courts
To test how well the state’s 58 county-based superior (trial) courts comply with the new rule, CalAware used email addressed to each court’s executive officer to make the following requests, shown in italic.
1. Executive Committee Minutes
 Agenda(s) and minutes or action summaries of the meeting(s) of the Court’s executive committee, or the equivalent, for the period October 15 – November 15, 2012.
The larger superior courts are governed by an executive committee, comprising some or all of their judges, in much the same way as a city is governed by a city council. That committee meets periodically to address and decide issues of administration, including but not limited to such matters as budgeting, judicial workload, income and spending, labor relations and so on, as well as the adoption of local rules concerning the management of cases and procedural requirements for parties. In smaller courts with only a handful of judges, these issues are addressed more informally, but an example of the scope of concerns to be dealt with, the Executive Committee of the Los Angeles Superior Court has subcommittees dealing with Civil & Small Claims; Criminal Court Matters; Education; Family Law; Grand Jurors; Judges' Retirement Benefits; Juvenile Departments; Legislation; Mental Health; Personnel and Budget; Probate Departments; Rules; Security; and Trial Jurors.Although no state law, rule of court or other provision has so far been interpreted as requiring superior court executive committees to meet openly, there is an interesting argument to be made that a 2004 amendment to the state constitution—added by more than 83 percent of the voters via Proposition 59—does exactly that. Article I, Section 3 (b) (1) states simply, “The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, and, therefore, the
meetings of public bodies
 and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.” (Emphasis added). The term “public body” might well be applied to superior court executive committees, which although supported in large part by state rather than local funds, also have a great deal to say about local public access to the courts in terms of fees, schedules, facility sites and ease of use.The mid-October to mid-November span of the minutes’ request was arbitrary— long enough to  be likely to capture one or more meetings of any such bodies, but not creating an undue burden of compilation.
Responses in General:
See details here
 
See overall responses by county
 
14 – Have no executive committee4 – No such records created3 – No such regular meetings held13 – Committee did not meet in specified period13 – Provided agenda and minutes for specified period4 – Agenda only provided1 – Agenda, redacted minutes provided1 – Minutes only provided1 – Redacted minutes provided2 – Documents are exempt from disclosure1 – No response to emailed or mailed requests
Most Interesting Responses
The San Diego and San Bernardino Superior Courts cited various exemptions from disclosure as the basis for declining to provide access to either agendas or minutes of their executive committee meetings.San Diego Court Executive Officer Michael M. Roddy wrote:
 Any such documents are exempt from disclosure under California Rules of Court, Rule 10.500, including under the official records privilege [Rule 10.500(d)(2) and (f)(5),  Evidence Code Section 1040, and Government Code Section 6255)]; the deliberative  process exemption [Rule 10.500(d)(2) and (f)(11) and Government Code Section 6255; and the public interest exemption [Rule 10.500(f)(12)]. Such documents are also exempt so long as they deal with adjudicative rather than administrative matters [Rule 10.500(b)(2) and (c)(1)], or other matters specifically exempted by Rule 10.500.
San Bernardino Deputy Court Executive Officer/General Counsel Debra K. Meyers wrote:
The Court has determined that agenda(s) and minutes or action summaries of any meeting(s) of the Court's Executive Committee for the period October 15 - November 15, 2012 are exempt from disclosure pursuant to California Rules of Court, rules 10.500(f) (11) and (12). Subdivision (f)(11) exempts court records that reveal decision-making processes, deliberative processes, evaluations and recommendations. Subdivision (f)(12) exempts records of a court where the public interest served by non-disclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Pursuant to California Rules of Court, rule 10.605, and the Court's Local Rules, rule 231.1, the purpose of the Court's Executive Committee is to advise the Presiding  Judge and assist with internal court management. The Executive Committee is therefore charged with adopting and administering the Court's budget (LR 231.2); and reviewing and approving the Court's organizational structure and reviewing

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