Our review of the Judicial Council of California's (Judicial Council) training programs for judicial officers revealed:
The Judicial Council of California (Judicial Council), empowered by the California Constitution, is the policy-making body of California's court system and is charged with improving the administration of justice. It makes recommendations to the courts as well as annual recommendations to the governor and Legislature. Further, it adopts and revises California Rules of Court, which have the force of law, in the areas of court administration, practice, and procedure, including education. The Judicial Council has authorized the Education Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to implement a comprehensive education program for the judicial branch.
Although the Education Division offers a broad variety of courses to judicial officers, much of the education offered is not required, and judicial officers take most courses at their discretion. Current education requirements, set forth in state law and Rules of Court, apply only to new judicial officers and those hearing certain types of cases. Further, neither statute nor Rules of Court generally require the AOC to track compliance with the education requirements; rather, it is the responsibility of each judicial officer and court to comply.
In February 2003 the governing committee that advises the Judicial Council on education began to review the concept of mandatory education and to consider whether to submit a proposal to the Judicial Council on minimum education requirements for all judicial officers. As part of its process, the governing committee reviewed other state education models, assessed judicial officers' attendance at programs offered by the Education Division, considered prior efforts to establish minimum education requirements, and surveyed judicial officers in California.
Subsequent to that review process, the governing committee proposed a Rule of Court that includes minimum education requirements for judicial officers. The proposed rule generally calls for 30 hours of continuing education for all judicial officers in a three-year cycle, or 10 hours per year. If approved by the Judicial Council, judicial officers will be responsible for maintaining records that show compliance with the requirements. Judicial officers have questioned the governing committee's proposal, including the Judicial Council's constitutional authority to establish minimum education requirements. In mid-August 2006, after further review, the governing committee voted to move forward the proposal with slight modifications. The governing committee's recommendation on the proposal is scheduled for submission to the Judicial Council for its consideration in October 2006.
The Education Division provides training to judicial officers through various methods, but traditional delivery education—in which faculty and participants interact in the same place and time—represents the largest percentage of the Education Division's direct operating expenses and equipment for judicial education. In addition, staff responsible for administering the federally funded Violence Against Women Education Project (VAWEP) collaborate with the Education Division to provide education to judicial officers in the areas of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. State law requires, and the Standards of Judicial Administration Recommended by the Judicial Council prescribe, that the Judicial Council and Education Division provide education programs to judicial officers in certain subject areas. However, many education programs focus on a specific area of law and apply to judicial officers assigned to hearing cases involving that area, so only some programs apply to all judicial officers. Moreover, the Education Division generally cannot identify the individual judicial officers for which a specific training course applies because it does not track judicial officer assignments. At our request the Education Division compiled records demonstrating the number of newly appointed or elected judicial officers in the State for July 2002 through mid-April 2006. We noted that nearly all the judicial officers we reviewed attended the required education programs, although some did not do so within the required time.
The Education Division currently uses an event-based method of prioritizing and planning its education programs. According to the director of the Education Division, event based planning focuses on filling a designated time slot with a training event that is recreated each time the event is planned. However, the Education Division began a formal curriculum development process in 2000 that will form the basis of a method for developing its education programs. The Education Division believes this curriculum-based approach, anticipated for completion within a few years, is more stable and can be designed to target specific audiences at entry, intermediate, or advanced career levels.
The Legislature does not appropriate funding specifically for judicial education; rather, it appropriates funding for the State's judicial branch. The Judicial Council and the AOC's administrative director of the courts allocate most of the judicial branch's appropriation to the various courts, with a smaller piece going to the AOC. The AOC's executive management and its Finance Division develop the Education Division's annual budget by considering the priorities of the Judicial Council and Education Division as well as the Education Division's budget and actual expenditures from the prior year.
The State's General Fund is the primary source of money for the Education Division and is used largely for personnel costs and education program expenses. The State's Office of Emergency Services funds the VAWEP with resources from the federal Office on Violence Against Women, and funds are used for judicial branch education programs on domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. We examined selected expenditures from the Education Division and the VAWEP for the period July 2004 through December 2005 and noted the expenditures were for appropriate and allowable purposes and that each transaction had undergone the AOC's established approval process.
However, the AOC faced obstacles in fully expending its grant awards for the first two years that the VAWEP was funded. VAWEP staff point to various factors that contributed to the AOC not using all the grant awards it received, including its inability to hire staff initially because of the state hiring freeze in effect at the time. Additionally, the AOC experienced delays in receiving grant awards in the first two years of the project. VAWEP staff also assert that the first two years of the grant were developmental, devoted in part to assessing the educational needs of the judicial branch. Since that time, according to VAWEP staff, the AOC has been able to align its expenditures more closely with the awarded amounts.
The Judicial Council should implement a plan to ensure that there is a system for tracking participation to meet judicial education requirements and that the records kept are accurate and timely.
The Education Division should continue its efforts in designing curricula to use in developing its judicial education programs. After implementing the curriculum-based planning approach, the Education Division should formally assess whether it has been successful.
The AOC states that it appreciates the recommendations and notes that the report will contribute to the continued improvement of the California courts.