State Court's Telecommuting Policy Questioned

I-Team Learns Some Workers Who Don't Live In Calif. Telecommute

As the state's courts run out of money, some are questioning how court leaders are handling their budget, including a decision to allow dozens of employees -- some who don't live in California -- to telecommute.

 

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The 10News I-Team learned the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) currently allows 97 employees to work from home or other locations.

"That's disappointing to know that the leadership of the courts has allowed that to go on," Vista Judge Dan Goldstein said.

Goldstein and hundreds of other state judges were also critical of the AOC's spending on simple maintenance items, including hundreds of dollars to change light bulbs in courtrooms.

There were also questions raised about the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a failed court computer upgrade and after a 10News investigation revealed court leaders spending taxpayer money on steaks and liquor.

Because of the court's financial shortfall, some courthouses will close and others will have hours cut back. The cuts will limit everyday citizens' access to justice, according to critics of the closures.

Goldstein and other judges across the state are questioning why some AOC staffing is necessary if they don't need to show up to the office.

AOC attorney Todd Torr lives the furthest from the AOC's headquarters in San Francisco. According to the AOC , Torr lives in Geneva, Switzerland, and earns $10,086 a month.

AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa wrote, "Mr. Torr has been allowed to work from outside California as an alternative to ending his employment."

Torr is one of 97 state court employees allowed to telecommute, according to the AOC. Some earn as much as $16,000 a month.

An investigation by several state judges recently questioned how the state courts got into its financial situation. One item questioned were the telecommuting employees, including one state lawyer living in Maryland and another in Minnesota.

The report says, "Such telecommuting does not comply" with state policy, that the courts "cannot afford the luxury of such arrangements."

It also mentions an example when a telecommuting employee was not able to meet with a state judge as requested because they were not available.

"Court hours are life and death," former San Diego City Attorney Casey Gwinn said. "The ability to file on a given day when you need protection is life and death."

Gwinn, who runs the National Family Justice Center, said responsible spending is key to keeping courts open, and with the courts cutting hours, the battered women and children he represents can't get the protection they need when they need it.

"There are tools that the court provides to family violence victims like restraining orders, like this emergency protection, and if it's not there at that moment in time, she doesn't have it and then we just have to keep our fingers crossed," Gwinn said.

According to state records, the 97 telecommuting employees make up roughly 10 percent of the AOC workforce.

Administrative Office of the Court's spokeswoman Leanne Kozak sent the follow email after the I-Team's request for an interview about the telecommuting court staff.

Your request on the subject of telecommuting was forwarded to me. Unfortunately, due to our crushing workload on the budget and related matters right now, no one is available for interviews.

You asked whether telecommuting is beneficial to California. I did a little research, which definitely supports the concept that telecommuting is a widely accepted practice in the 21st Century. Even the feds are out in front. Go figure.

California Dept. of General Services About Statewide Telework (Telecommuting)

"Appropriately planned and managed, telework is a viable work option that can benefit managers, employees, and customers of the State of California. Telework, called telecommuting in statute, is also an important means by which we can help reduce air pollution, traffic and parking congestion, and demand for office space." www.dgs.ca.gov/dgs/ProgramsServices/telework.aspx

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (Act) (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-111publ292/pdf/PLAW-111publ292.pdf) was signed into law on December 9, 2010. "The Act is a key factor in the Federal Government's ability to achieve greater flexibility in managing its workforce through the use of telework. Well-established and implemented telework programs provide agencies a valuable tool to meet mission objectives while helping employees enhance work/life effectiveness."

U.S. Office of Personnel Management Report to Congress 2/11 "President Obama, the Congress, and OPM have all encouraged Federal agencies to expand their use of telework to ensure continuity of operations; find targeted productivity improvements and reduce overhead, real estate, environmental, and transit costs; and improve employees' ability to manage their work and life obligations."

"22% telework to some extent"

"67% of these employees teleworked on a regular basis"

"33 agencies reported cost savings/benefits as a result of telework; of these, the greatest benefit was in the area of productivity (39%), then human capital, such as recruitment and retention (37%), and realized savings in leave (34%)"

"Overall, a high percentage of teleworkers appear to be well-positioned to perform their jobs with excellence. When compared with respondents not able to telework, more teleworkers are clear about work expectations (83% versus 79%), are held accountable for results (87% versus 83%), and have a clearer sense of control over work processes (53% versus 44%)."

WorldatWork Telework Trendlines 2009 The number of Americans who worked from home or remotely at least one day per month for their employer increased from approximately 12.4 million in 2006 to 17.2 million in 2008. A 39% 2 year increase and 74% increase since 2005.

Workplace Flexibility 2010, Georgetown University Law Center

Occupation: Percent of Telecommuters:
Management, professional & related occupations 44.7%
Sales and office 24.9
Service 18.4