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Q&A: New director defines goals for Judicial Council

Martin N. Hoshino joined the Judicial Council as its administrative director last fall. Bar Journal Editor Laura Ernde recently spoke with him about his approach to the job and his plans.

Before you joined the Judicial Council you were a top administrator at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. I’m curious what prompted you to make the move to the Judicial Council.

Martin Hoshino
Hoshino - Photo by S. Todd Rogers

It’s a long story, but I’ll give you an abbreviated version. I’ve always had an early interest in this area of government. I’m one of those folks who came out of college with two different degrees in political science at two different levels and always thought about whether the path for me was to be an attorney. I ended up taking a public administrator’s path. And I progressed through different parts of government. I spent about 10 to 11 years in various places inside the very large Department of Corrections. I had some time at the Board of Parole Hearings, for about four or five years, which is an administrative function that has a lot of similarities to what occurs here in the judicial branch. I had also worked with the judicial branch and courts in terms of mental health courts, drug courts. Proposition 36 passed, which was the first three-strikes reform, so I worked closely with the courts in eligibility, in moving those cases over to be heard. And then I worked at the Board of Parole Hearings, where I had a class action that was supervised in Marin County by Judge Verna Adams. Of course, in corrections there were 19 major class actions. I had a lot of interaction in that part of the system with the courts, albeit some of them federal and some of them state. It brought me closer and closer.

Then about a year and a half ago the governor tapped me as part of a work group that he and the chief justice put together called the Trial Court Funding Work Group. That was my experience of seeing the tip of the iceberg of court funding, unification. I got to see it in real time participating in that. The logic was that I was administering and managing a vast system, a very large budget with a lot of moving parts, and would have an appreciation of the size of a statewide operation, but then also the individuality that operates that and the different levels of autonomy and how you might balance a large central operation at the state level with the county and local government apparatus that is so prevalent here in California. That was a fascinating experience for me.

So when the [administrative director] opening came up and I had just finished with corrections, for four years in that front office, having done the criminal justice realignment, which also brought, again, an interaction between the courts along the way, I came back to what had been an early passion for me. It was a hard decision, I’ll be candid. But opportunities come and go, and when this one opened up I didn’t want it to just pass by. I actually looked at this job the first time it came up, but the timing wasn’t right. This time it was, and I was lucky enough to get selected by the council.

How do you think that experience in corrections will benefit the judicial branch?

Martin N Hoshino

So in a couple of ways. Because of my experience in the executive branch I know an awful lot about how agencies and departments run. In the roles that I had, some of them very challenging, I was exposed to a lot of other parts of government, not just in the executive branch but also the Legislature, and generally got a feel for how state government works. And then in corrections, being as spread out as it is, given that it is a large system within a criminal justice system, I began to understand that there were always a lot of players, a lot of parties, a lot of moving parts that needed to align or integrate in order to be effective. It was a great professional lesson for me in all of these experiences. To have to work with people to try and align these things, as well as learning the mechanics and the nuances of how it is you make big operations work, right down to the people and the budgets and the policies and the procedures and the protocols.

Some of the stuff isn’t as exciting to [other] folks, but it is the nuts and bolts of an organization. So that state-level experience will help me a lot. I’ve had the real-world experience of chasing what I would call the Holy Grail of balance on state level expectations of general uniformity and consistency. Because there is one state, there is one Constitution. There is one document governing the conduct of all of its citizens and its participants. And yet California is so incredibly diverse with its 58 counties and its north/south/central and its coast and its inland and its mountain regions. There’s a lot of variation. And I experienced that again in a very large system, not just a prison and parole system, a juvenile justice system, but also in the context of a criminal justice system in which sheriffs, probation, county boards of supervisors, district attorneys and courts all are important participants. The list goes on and on, both in terms of the practitioners in the system and the users of the system. In the end it’s still the delivery of a very important public service. Public safety being the one I’m coming off of, and court services being the one I’m looking to learn as quickly as I can.

Let’s talk about how you’ve been spending your time since you arrived Oct. 1.

It’s been quite the learning curve. I’ve dived in. The only way I can characterize it is just sheer immersion. I’ve spent the majority of my time with the staff here at the Judicial Council trying to understand the people, the management, the employees and all the operating facets of what it is we’re doing. I’ve spent time with the chief [justice]. I’ve spent time with the chairs of the advisory committees. I’ve dropped in on every advisory committee that I could that I came into close orbit with. I’ve gone to L.A. County court, the superior court level there, spent a full day with them. Fascinating some of the things that they’ve got going on there as well some challenges. I think I’ve accepted every invitation from anybody who wanted to talk. And so far everyone has accepted my invitation to talk. It seems like a pretty good start. I have concluded I clearly have a lot to learn in terms of the subject matter and the content of the judicial branch and the operation. So my next steps are to spend more time closer to where the rubber’s hitting the road, and where court services are being dispensed, to get into what we talked about earlier – how does it fit together in terms of the central pieces of the state level operation right down to the parties and the participants and the public who is counting on and expecting and needing these court services?

Could you expand a little bit on your first impression of the Judicial Council and the judicial branch?

The first impression of the branch is it’s big and it has a lot of layers of autonomy as I’ll call it. I’ve gotten to understand the big pieces –  the Supreme Court, the courts of appeal, the habeas project and the trial courts – and who’s what share of the operational pie and the puzzle and budgets and the like. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the budget piece of it because, as I talk to everybody, it is the front and center issue. There is a case to be made and a cataloging of the different things that are going on here that were spurred in part by the budget cuts and in part by a recession and a fiscal crisis. But out of that there has been a lot of reform and change and innovation that’s occurred which I think needs to be identified. My impression is we can do something here to explain to folks that there are new ways that the courts are offering their services. There may be even new ways we can develop to offer these services that are worthy of investment.

I’ve come to appreciate that the mechanics of the judicial branch of government are different from the executive branch, which is different, in turn, from the legislative branch. In some respects it’s an amalgam of the two. The judiciary has a lot of autonomy as the third branch of government, but it also has attributes and funding and functionality requirements that are found in an executive agency as well as a high level of participation, manifested in its committee processes, its advisory groups and the like. And so I am making that transition from the executive branch to the judicial branch, which is linear in some fashion but also pays heed and is respectful of the layers of autonomy and an effort to include more people in the conversation. I’d analogize more to the Legislature in terms of its public policy apparatus, its committee structure, its caucuses. So it’s both intellectually and emotionally a different experience. I find it fascinating.

You mentioned that the budget cuts have led to some reforms. Do you have any specific examples?

On a broad level what I see is an opportunity to identify and advocate for the reforms I think that are in progress or have already occurred as well as identify new ones along the way. It’s very early on, but I’m looking for what that is because I know some of that’s already occurred by instinct. It can’t be that the branch sat still, static, while this was happening. It just doesn’t work that way. Every element of government had to make some adjustment along the way as everybody competes for finite public resources. So to me it’s putting together the package of the proposals and the ideas and the things that have happened as well as the people. Some of the examples that I’ve encountered early on are notions of centralizing some of the services. Now that’s not the same as saying courtroom closures or consolidations, but centralizing some services that actually make it easier for the public. For example, in Los Angeles they centralized the temporary restraining order function in one location. It’s not in the probate area or the family law area or another area where folks can literally get lost not knowing where to go. So that’s an example where there’s more of a one-stop shop.

Another example might be the things that have gone on in the area of self-help litigation. Making things easier in terms of access, making things more understandable. Providing services more front-loaded to the public in their point of first contact and interface with the courts. That’s the type of reform and efficiency that increases access to justice. It may drive other resources and have other operational impacts down the line. But those are the things I’m hoping that we in the judicial branch and the participants here and the staff can figure out and map out. Everything’s easier said than done. That gets me excited because I think there are opportunities like that. Necessity being the mother of invention, or the fiscal crisis spurring it, whatever the cause, my sense early on is that there has been and are opportunities to do that. That’s what I’ve been spending my time trying to figure out: How am I going to add as much value and as much assistance as I can?

What’s one thing that lawyers in California should know about either you or your approach to the job?

I guess it would be that I understand or appreciate the level of interaction and interdependence of the system and all of the players, the lawyers being a significant part of that. There are various associations that are created that are knowledge centers, where people bring their respective experience to bear. Whether it’s the Supreme Court and its role in the discipline cases. Whether it is the attorneys being on our advisory bodies or vice versa – our appointments to their particular associations. All of this matters because it’s a way to harness the collective intelligence and experience of all of the players, aligned for one important particular purpose, which is access to justice and serving the people of California. There are examples to point to that I’m aware of historically. The commission on fees being an example. E-discovery protocols. Appearances by telephone.

We’re doing things together for the betterment for the branch and the betterment of the legal profession. And ultimately, again, for delivering higher quality and better service to the citizens of California. I would want them to know they have somebody here who understands and appreciates their role as an integral part of the justice system. And I believe that understanding the profession and incorporating and integrating lawyers into the process  is vital and instrumental in the work we do.