California court administrative agency charged with wasteful spending

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A joint investigative effort by San Diego Union-Tribune and 10News to document wasteful spending at county courthouses in 2010 has turned up some telling items. The charges were detailed in a maintenance log obtained by the news outlets under the California Public Records Act.

What normally be considered minor items by most people routinely ran into the hundreds of dollars.

For example, just adjusting a thermostat in an office or courtroom can cost between $120 and $460, according to records.

The Union-Tribune reported a few more examples:

Two handles on glass entrance doors to the South County courthouse in Chula Vista were tightened after a report that they were loose. Cost: $496.

Squeaky doors into Department 66 at the downtown Hall of Justice were disrupting court proceedings. Cost to fix: $460.35.

A toilet paper holder in a restroom used by sheriff’s deputies at the East County courthouse in El Cajon fell off and was repaired. Cost: $380.70.

A flickering light in a hallway between two courtrooms in the downtown criminal courts building was repaired in August. Cost: $599.31.

The repair costs were listed on records obtained from the Administrative Office of the Courts, which supervises the court system throughout the state. Critics say the agency is inefficient, bloated and does a poor job of managing the facilities.

The agency is responsible for maintaining 350 court facilities around the state, including more than 10 million feet of space. It contracts with private companies around the state to handle routine repairs and maintenance items.

If a work item is estimated to cost less than $500, it is sent by a computerized system to the vendor to handle the work. The agency does not review the requests beforehand, but says that it reviews some of the bills after the work is completed.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Dan Goldstein, head of a 400-member group of state judges is highly critical of the AOC. “While the courts have been asked to endure a $360 million baseline budget cut, the AOC has continued to act with recklessness with the court’s scarce resources,” he said. “Because of a lack of oversight, transparency and the lack of controls on courthouse maintenance costs have become intolerable.”

If picking up two dead rats in a parking lot costs $43.20, perhaps someone can suggest a better way to manage the system.

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