A state Senate committee on Thursday voted to slash $500,000 from the Commission on Judicial Performance’s annual budget as the disciplinary agency continues to resist an audit of some confidential records.
The three-senator budget subcommittee, composed of two Democrats and one Republican, did not discuss the proposed cut before voting unanimously to recommend it to the full Senate Budget Committee. A staff report issued before the hearing simply noted that the commission is in ongoing—and so far, successful—litigation to stop portions of an audit ordered by the Legislature in 2016.
A $500,000 cut would amount to roughly 10 percent of the $5.2 million budget the governor allocated for the commission in his proposed 2018-19 spending plan.
Gregory Dresser, the commission director and chief counsel, did not return messages left Thursday afternoon.
Lawmakers asked for the audit, which would be the agency’s first by the state auditor in 58 years, amid complaints from family law litigants that the commission is too lenient toward wayward judges and criticism from judges that the discipline process is unfair.
Commission executives have said that while they’re willing to share administrative and budgetary documents with state Auditor Elaine Howle, California’s constitution bars them from disclosing certain records about investigations into potential misconduct by judges. Howle disagrees and has vowed that her staff will keep any legally protected documents confidential.
The commission sued and in December a San Francisco Superior Court judge sided with the commission, which is represented by Kerr & Wagstaffe in San Francisco. An appeal is currently pending in the First District appellate court.
An Assembly budget committee last month pressed the commission to negotiate a compromise with the auditor’s office and end the litigation. That panel did not, however, recommend cutting the commission budget. The different tacks by the two legislative houses means the budget issue will probably be settled by a joint committee this summer.
Kathleen Russell, executive director for the audit-seeking Center for Judicial Excellence, praised the Senate committee vote.
“We think the CJP should be defunded until it drops its obstructive lawsuit against the auditor, but this move at least ensures a negotiation on the CJP Budget in conference,” she said.