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Kate Howard, the AOC’s new legislative director, is searching for a bit of information to answer a question on an upcoming $6 billion bond issue the courts hope to place on the state ballot in 2006. Without missing a beat, she pulls out one of her book-sized spiral notebooks and runs her finger through neatly handwritten pages covered with Post-its. In less than a minute, she’s found her figure. Those who work with Howard –everyone from Chief Justice Ronald George to state Sen. Joseph Dunn — say her congenial efficiency and ability to remain unruffled, regardless of circumstance, are invaluable skills for winning support for the courts in Sacramento. “Kate is extraordinary,” said George, who met Howard in 1990 when the Administrative Office of the Courts hired her as a consultant to help implement recommendations on gender bias in the courts. “Everyone seems to not only hold her in great respect, but also to find her an extremely enjoyable personality, which of course is of vital interest when your position is one of being an advocate.” Dunn calls Howard “absolutely, positively fantastic” and says she’s “informed on all issues facing the judiciary.” “I have the good fortune, generally, to have a very steady temperament,” said Howard, 42. “I can keep quite a bit in my head, and it’s important for me to appear competent. [But] people are understanding as human beings; if they want me to answer a question, and I can’t do it, then I’ll say, ‘I’ll get back to you.’” Howard’s diplomatic skills should get a workout as she assumes leadership of the AOC’s Office of Governmental Affairs from Ray LeBov, her boss and mentor for the past 11 years. At a meeting of the Judicial Council on Friday, Howard will outline an ambitious legislative agenda for the coming year. For starters, she’ll be pushing for legislation to transfer to the state 147 county court facilities that don’t meet seismic standards. Some of the money for improvements would come from the 2006 bond issue. Howard will also push the Legislature to convert 150 subordinate judicial officer positions — held by court commissioners — into judgeships. Howard and court officials say that would ease pressure on courts in fast-growing parts of the state. There’s also a proposal to let judges collect partial retirement benefits after just 10 years of service rather than the 20 now required. Howard will also lobby lawmakers to tie the budget for the AOC and the state appellate courts to a formula pegged to population growth and increases in personal income. The trial court budget was linked to the formula as part of this year’s budget deal in a move that gave the courts an additional $100 million in funding. The budget agreement wasn’t without controversy. The additional funding from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seemed to be conditioned on the AOC’s agreeing to give the state more of a say in negotiations with unionized court employees. Court officials later denied they’d made such a deal, but labor representatives remain wary. “It’s going to be a learning experience for both of us,” said Michelle Castro, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union, which represents the majority of courthouse employees. Castro said she had worked with and respected LeBov, but hasn’t yet worked with Howard. A former English and social ecology major who received a master’s degree in public policy, Howard says she’s ready for the give and take — and rough and tumble — of Sacramento politics. George said LeBov “perfectly groomed” his second-in-command, giving her an understanding of the inner workings of the AOC and the legislative branch. Howard moved from being a consultant to being a budget analyst, but was asked by AOC Administrative Director William Vickrey to join the office of governmental affairs in 1993, where she worked alongside LeBov. “When I first started and I really felt I had so much to learn, Ray would look at a situation and analyze it and break it down to whatever detail or scenario — ‘Well, if we suggest this, this is probably what will happen,’” recalled Howard. LeBov was a lawyer by training who’d served as chief counsel to the Assembly Judiciary Committee before coming to the AOC, where Howard, a nonlawyer, learned politics from her seat at the AOC. Howard says LeBov was quieter and more cautious about “managing appropriately the expectations of the courts.” She describes her own style as more open, and she’s hoping to engage more legislators and court employees in the workings of the AOC, even if that means having to consider — and sometimes reject — the input. To that end, she hopes to bring more AOC officials out to courts to see life in the trenches. And she plans more visits with legislators. Unlike private-industry lobbyists, Howard can’t offer lawmakers luxury seats at a Kings game. But she can turn even that into an advantage. “Working for the judicial branch is different from working on some sort of a money issue,” she says. “We have the ability to deal with the other branches on the merits.”

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