I find no humor in Dana Parsons' column "Let Judges Travel; the Money Goes Far." Even in jest, this court and the public it serves cannot afford any misconception of flagrant spending.
The Orange County Superior Court has always been prudent and accountable with public resources, particularly with respect to travel and certainly in this austere economy. All travel requests for judicial officers and staff must be reviewed and approved before funds are authorized. Over the last five years, travel expenses have averaged $460,000 per year for the court's 143 judicial officers and 1,480 staff. Travel expenses account for less than 0.5% of the court budget. Judicial travel and training accounted for about 11% of the travel budget and averaged $354 per year for each judicial officer. This sum is extremely low, considering that judges are required to undergo eight days of continuing education per year.
The knowledge gained from attending classes and conferences has benefited the court and the public. The Orange County Superior Court has increased its knowledge and ability to render justice in a number of areas, including use of technology to improve access and efficiency; drug mental health, domestic violence and other collaborative court programs; and improved access for the disabled, non-English-speaking and low-income litigants.
I must also address Mr. Parsons' misrepresentation that judicial officers and executives are "wining and dining" at public expense. Court travel policies are administered pursuant to State Board of Control rates and Judicial Council policies. The standard per diem rate is $6 for breakfast, $10 for lunch and $18 for dinner. Most judicial officers find it necessary to supplement their court-related travel with their own funds.
Recent L.A. Times reports regarding judicial travel, which initially surfaced during negotiations with the court's employee union, have taken this issue out of context and failed to tell the full story. I hope this letter serves to inform the public.
Chief executive officer
Superior Court of California
County of Orange