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Judicial Council of California
It Needs to Follow Competitive Bidding Processes More Consistently and Establish Clear Guidance for Invoice Processing

Report Number: 2017-302


The Role of the Judicial Council Within California’s Judicial Branch

The Judicial Branch of California (Judicial Branch) is a separate, independent branch of state government consisting of the Supreme Court of California (Supreme Court), courts of appeal, superior—or trial—courts, and the Judicial Council of California (Judicial Council). The Judicial Branch’s fiscal year 2016–17 budget was about $3.6 billion; the State’s General Fund supplied nearly half of this amount, and other funding sources, such as fines and fees that the Judicial Branch collected, provided the remainder. The California Constitution requires the Judicial Council to survey judicial business practices and to make recommendations to the courts, the Governor, and the Legislature for improving judicial administration. For example, the Judicial Council cosponsored the Trial Court Facilities Act of 2002, which shifted governance of California’s trial court facilities from the counties to the State. According to the Judicial Council, this act was an important part of broader structural reforms to the Judicial Branch that transformed the trial courts into an integrated, state‑operated court system.

The Judicial Council consists of a policymaking body and support staff for that body. Members of the policymaking body include the chief justice of California and one other Supreme Court justice; three justices of courts of appeal; 10 superior court judges; four members of the State Bar of California; several nonvoting members, including court executive officers; and a representative from each house of the Legislature. In addition, this policymaking body may appoint an administrative director who serves as the body’s secretary and performs administrative and policymaking functions as the Judicial Council’s policymaking body and the law direct. In addition to performing many administrative functions, the Judicial Council’s support staff can assist Judicial Branch entities, such as the State’s 58 superior courts, when they procure goods or services.

State Contracting and Procurement Requirements

The Public Contract Code (contract code) generally governs how state entities enter into contracts and how they procure goods and services. It also governs how these entities should solicit, evaluate, and award contracts. In enacting the contract code, the Legislature intended to achieve certain objectives, such as ensuring that state agencies comply with competitive bidding statutes; providing all qualified bidders with a fair opportunity to enter the bidding process; and eliminating favoritism, fraud, and corruption in the awarding of public contracts.

The State Administrative Manual (SAM) and the State Contracting Manual (SCM) furnish additional guidance to state entities regarding procurement. SAM provides general fiscal and business policy guidance to state agencies, while SCM provides specific procurement and contract management policies and procedures in line with the contract code. For example, the contract code allows solicitation of a bid from a single source for transactions of less than $5,000 and SCM adds that the state agency must determine that the pricing is fair and reasonable.

The California Judicial Branch Contract Law

In 2011 the State enacted the California Judicial Branch Contract Law (judicial contract law), which requires Judicial Branch entities to follow procurement and contracting policies that are consistent with the contract code and that are also substantially similar to those found in SAM and SCM. The judicial contract law also requires the Judicial Council to adopt and publish a contracting manual for the Judicial Branch that is consistent with those requirements. For example, similar to SCM, the Judicial Branch Contracting Manual (judicial contracting manual) allows purchases from a single source for transactions of less than $5,000 when the Judicial Branch entity determines that the pricing is fair and reasonable. The law also requires that each Judicial Branch entity—such as superior courts, the courts of appeal, or the Judicial Council—adopt a local contracting manual (local manual). The judicial contracting manual requires that the local manual identify the individuals with the responsibility and authority for specific procurement activities. Further, the judicial contracting manual identifies items the local manuals may include, such as instructions on setting up and maintaining official procurement files and signature authorization.

The judicial contract law also imposes other reporting requirements. Beginning in 2012, it requires the Judicial Council to submit semiannual reports itemizing some of the Judicial Branch’s contracting activities to the Legislature and the California State Auditor (State Auditor). In addition, the judicial contract law requires the State Auditor, subject to legislative appropriation, to conduct a biennial assessment of the Judicial Council’s compliance with the judicial contract law. This report presents the results of our current biennial assessment.

Finally, the judicial contracting manual outlines how judicial entities can procure goods and services using purchase orders, contracts, and contract amendments. According to the judicial contracting manual, purchase orders are agreements that may be used for the purchase of goods, and these agreements are typically for off‑the‑shelf goods and software or for routine, low‑cost, or low‑risk services. The figure outlines the process that the Judicial Council and the Judicial Branch entities use when they employ competitive bidding to enter into agreements—including purchase orders and contracts—to purchase goods or services from vendors.

The Judicial Branch’s Competitive Procurement Process for Contracts and Purchase Orders

The figure is a process flowchart showing how the Judicial Council procures contracts and purchase orders, describing the roles and responsibilities of various individuals involved in the process.

Sources: The Judicial Council’s contract administration procedure manual, the judicial contracting manual, and interviews with staff of the Judicial Council.

* A purchase order is a type of agreement. According to the judicial contracting manual, Judicial Branch entities often use purchase orders for the purchase of goods and for services that are ancillary to the purchase of the goods. The Judicial Branch entities also typically use purchase orders for off‑the‑shelf goods and software or for routine, low‑cost, or low‑risk services.

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