Between September 2012 and January 2013 four California Highway Patrol officers received paychecks for traveling to destinations in Hawaii and Puerto Rico and enjoying accommodations at exclusive resorts.
That could raise the dander of many taxpaying Californians, but consider this before you fault the CHP for wasting public money: it had to send the officers to those exotic locations.
It's the law.
The officers were providing protective services to California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. Under California Vehicle Code Section 2400 (i) states that, "upon request of the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, the (CHP) commissioner may provide appropriate protective services to any current or former member of the State Court of Appeal or the California Supreme Court."
Since 2009, taxpayers have paid a total of more than $4 million each year for that protection. Cantil-Sakauye is among those requesting the service, and she used it on trips to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Pebble Beach and Monterey. On each trip, she was accompanied by at least one member of the CHP's Judicial Protection Section.
In January, the Chief Justice criticized the governor's budget and said an additional $266 million was needed to keep state courts operating without further deep cuts in service and courthouse shutdowns.
Critics of the service said that the Chief Justice also is known to use her CHP bodyguard and a CHP car to take frequent trips between her Sacramento home and the California Supreme Court in San Francisco.
"As far as the Chief Justice is concerned, the last I checked, it's a pretty safe road from Sacramento to San Francisco," San Diego County Superior Court Judge Ronald Maino said. He is part of an alliance of more than 500 California Superior Court judges questions the need for the Judicial Protection Section.
"You cannot justify it pure and simple," Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard said. "Unless there is a real security threat you cannot justify it. I've had death threats and I never got any level of extra security."
A spokesperson for the Chief Justice defended the service and the travel.
"Travel is required for the justices to perform their constitutionally-mandated responsibilities for the court, their roles as elected public officials, their roles representing California's judiciary, and their potential roles as members of the judicial branch's policymaking body the Judicial Council of California," Cathal Conneely said. He added that the Chief Justice attended important conferences for legal professionals during the trips to Hawaii and the one to Puerto Rico.
But why is the CHP security detail in locations where Cantil-Sakauye and other justices are not public figures?
The CHP would not discuss any details about particular trips or alleged threats.
"Threats received by members of the judiciary are investigated," Spokesperson Fran Clader said. "The details are not discussed nor are the details on how or where JPS (Judicial Protection Section) deploys its personnel as doing so would be counterproductive and could jeopardize the safety and security of its protectees."
A source with knowledge of the Chief Justice's travels told News10 a CHP officer routinely picks up Cantil-Sakauye at her Sacramento home and drops her off in the evenings.
The Chief Justice's spokesperson said the source is wrong.
"I know the Chief does not use the services of the CHP on a daily basis and she does not travel between Sacramento and San Francisco on a daily basis. I also know that the Chief Justice is grateful for the protection and professionalism of the CHP as well as the law that enables that protection."
Yet, critics said they weren't sure the extra protection was warranted.
"Is this really needed for protection? If so, then it should be done," Maino said. "If it's just because of prestige and convenience, I don't see any reason the CHP should be operating an armed taxi service for justices."
Judges responded to News10's investigation into judicial protection unit with the California Highway Patrol. (Thursday, May 15, 2014) News10