Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Court of Appeal Judges Immunity from Commission on Judicial Performance Accountability Revealed at California Assembly Budget Committee Hearing



In this video clip, Commission on Judicial Performance whistleblower and court reform advocate Joe Sweeney testifies at a California Assembly Budget Committee hearing on March 28, 2016. The commission is solely responsible for oversight and accountability of judges in the state. 

Several days before the hearing, Sweeney's court modernization and reform organization, Court Reform LLC, released a 78-page report which raised questions about CJP judicial misconduct statistical data and how the agency spends taxpayer funds. 


The report, Why a Spotlight must be put on the Commission on Judicial Performance, also charged that CJP operations are shielded by an excessive and unprecedented level of secrecy for a government agency. In this four minute video, Sweeney explains to the committee the methodology and results of Court Reform LLC's six month investigation into the policies and practices of the CJP.


Sweeney also requested that the Legislature order an audit of the commission, and withhold additional funding for the agency until it could prove that taxpayer funds were being used efficiently.  

Controversial CJP Director Victoria Henley offered a rebuttal, contesting the accuracy of the Court Reform LLC Spotlight Report. In an op-ed published several days later by the San Francisco and Los Angeles Daily Journal newspapers, Sweeney, in turn, dissected and refuted Henley's rebuttal point-by-point. 

Underground Regulations and Stand-Down Orders 


California court reform advocates also allege that CJP judicial discipline data indicate that Henley has issued a staff directive prohibiting investigation and discipline of court of appeal and Supreme Court judges. According to a former CJP employee, the policy was implemented to prevent further embarrassment to the Judicial Branch, which has been engulfed in a series of scandals spanning several years. 

Government whistleblowers assert that the policy is, or is analogous to an "underground regulation." Underground rules or policies are prohibited by the California Code of Regulations [pdf], and are subject to review by the state Office of Administrative Law. 

In addition, Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye reportedly has issued what amounts to an underground "stand-down" order blocking CJP scrutiny of judges at the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento. 
"The legal community acknowledges that the third district is the most controversial court in the state," said former state employee and court watchdog Ulf Carlsson. "They are notoriously hostile to whistleblower cases and whistleblower rights, and any case with a pro per party.  Tani Cantil-Sakauye and several justices there are affiliated with the ultra-right-wing Federalist Society, and most are former prosecutors. Time has shown that prosecutors make terrible judges," Carlsson explained. 
Prior to her elevation to the high court, Cantil-Sakauye spent six years as an associate justice at the Third District, and still resides in Sacramento, where she was born and raised. Although whistleblowers have documented systemic misconduct at the appellate court, no justice has yet been held accountable by the CJP.  

California Courts of Appeal Report will publish additional video - including Henley's rebuttal - and news reports on the landmark hearing, and on the still-unfolding drama.  

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