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As we have noted, government never hesitates to waste money on projects of dubious utility. For example, commuters can get along quite well without California’s $68 billion high-speed rail boondoggle. The state does not need two massive tunnels under the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, but the governor wants to spend $25 billion the project. Likewise, the old eastern span of the Bay Bridge did suffer structural damage in the Loma Prieta earthquake, but in normal conditions it worked well for Bay Area commuters. Local government wanted the new one for aesthetic reasons. Politicians were not disturbed when it came in $5 billion over budget and 10 years late. On the other hand, nobody disputes that state government should operate the judicial system, but as Patrick McGreevy and Maura Dolan show in the Los Angeles Times, that too is riddled with waste.
The reporters cite state auditor Elaine Howle’s claim that the state’s San Francisco–based Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) have been on something of a binge, to the tune of $30 million. Martin Hoshino, hired in 2014 to administer the Judicial Council, bags $227,000 a year. As the reporters observe, “the governor earns $177,000 a year, less than the justices he appoints to serve on the California Supreme Court and less than is earned by some county court administrators.” Further, eight of the—count ‘em—nine office directors bag more than the governor’s salary. In California’s executive branch, the average salary is $62,000, and in four large trial courts it is $71,000. In the Judicial Council and AOC, the average salary is $82,000, bigger than both by a wide margin, and the system also pays the employee’s share of retirement contributions. And the waste does not stop there.
As Alexei Koseff shows in the Sacramento Bee, the judicial system maintains a fleet of 66 vehicles that have “not been justified as necessary.” And the AOC spent about $386 million on behalf of trial courts over the last four fiscal years using the trial courts’ local appropriations when, according to the auditor, those payments could have come from its own state appropriations. So the Alliance of California Judges has a strong case that that the Judicial Council is an “over-bloated bureaucracy” which operates, according to Judge Maryanne Gillard, with “no check or balance on the current system.”