Letter from California Judges Association Opposes Elimination of Extra Judicial Benefits

rosenbergThe California Judges Association has entered a fray between some members of the County Board of Supervisors and Judge David Rosenberg regarding supplemental fees paid by the county to Yolo County Judges, despite the fact that they are state employees rather than county employees.

In a July 14 letter from Michael P. Vicencia, President of the California Judges Association, he wrote, “The California Judges Association wishes to express its concern regarding a June 30,2010 letter sent by your staff to the Judges of the Yolo Superior Court and to the Administrative Office of the Courts, regarding the County’s intention to terminate the payment of county-funded judicial benefits.”

He argued that Yolo County is not the only county that offers judicial benefits, and added, “In fact, most of California’s judges receive some county provided benefits.”

“The County of Yolo would be the first county in California to terminate its judicial benefits. County governments throughout California continue to provide benefits because they understand that the transition from county government to state government is a long and difficult process. Judicial salaries have been equalized throughout California and, at the direction of the legislature, the Branch has been working diligently to resolve the inconsistencies in judicial benefits,” he continued.

Earlier this month, the Vanguard reported that County Administrator Patrick Blacklock had sent a letter to William Vickrey that would preserve the timeline if the county wished to terminate supplemental judicial benefits.

“This notice is being provided so that the Board of Supervisors will have the full range of statutory options available when the Board considers this issue. This item is currently planned for Board of Supervisors consideration on August 3,” CAO Blacklock wrote at the end of June.  “The final adopted County budget, likely to be considered sometime in September, can then be modified to reflect the Board of Supervisors direction. Again, this notice is provided simply to comply with the statutory requirements to ensure that the Board of Supervisors can consider all options when it considers this matter.”

The Judges became state employees in 1994 but Yolo County for the past 17 years has provided supplementary benefits to judges for retirement, life insurance and medical insurance.  According to an article in the Woodland Daily Democrat this morning, “The supplemental benefits contradict the state’s goal of providing a uniform salary scale throughout California in order to retain quality judges.”

Judge David Rosenberg, the presiding judge of Yolo County courts has asked the board to delay making any decisions until there is a completion of the study.  However, such a delay would mean that for the majority of judges on the bench, they would continue to receive this benefit for the next two years during a time when the county is laying off and furloughing employees as they attempt to close budget deficits running as high as $20 million.

On June 15, the Board of Supervisors were divided on the issue as Matt Rexroad and Duane Chamberlain voted to terminate the benefits, Helen Thomson and Jim Provenza voted against the motion while Mike McGowan voted to abstain.

William Vickrey in his letter to County Counsel Robyn Truitt Drivon and the Board of Supervisors wrote, “I write to inform you of the status of the Judicial Council of California’s reporting to the Legislature regarding judicial benefits in light of the Board of Supervisors’ earlier-expressed intent to defer any action on county-provided judicial benefits until a full report is provided to the Legislature, as authorized by the legislation that provided authority to counties to terminate such benefits.”

He continued, “the Legislature directed the Judicial Council to report to various legislative committees by December 31,2009, “analyzing the statewide benefits inconsistencies.” The Judicial Council on December 15,2009, submitted its report entitled Historical Analysis of Disparities in Judicial Benefits-Report to the Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review. the Assembly Committee on Budget, and the Senate and Assembly Committees on Judiciary.”

“If appropriate,” Mr. Vickrey wrote, “the council will also make recommendations to the Legislature and Governor regarding options for reforming judicial benefits in order to move toward a more consistent approach that would better attract and retain a highly qualified and diverse judiciary.”

In a letter from September of 2009, Judge David Rosenberg indicated an agreement was reached with former CAO Sharon Jensen that, “the Board of Supervises (sic) will defer any further action, if any, until the Administrative Office of the Courts provides a full report to the Governor and Legislature regarding the issue of judicial benefits, as authorized by the legislation which provided authority to Boards of Supervisors to terminate benefits.”

The letter by Judge Vicencia follows along the same lines.  He writes, “The first phase of that work was completed in December of 2009 when a comprehensive report on the subject of judicial benefits within the 58-county systems was presented to the legislature. The second phase is now well underway and that phase will result in recommendations to the Legislature and the Governor.”

He concludes, “It is very important that the present process of full transition for the courts in each of the 58 counties not be delayed. Until the issue can be fully addressed statewide, we ask you to maintain the status quo and not terminate the benefits you provide to your Yolo Judges.”

What is unclear in this, is exactly why this study must be undertaken in order for a county to say that it can no longer afford to pay this supplemental cost.

—David M. Greenwald

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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10 thoughts on “Letter from California Judges Association Opposes Elimination of Extra Judicial Benefits”

  1. Alphonso

    “Judicial salaries have been equalized throughout California and, at the direction of the legislature, the Branch has been working diligently to resolve the inconsistencies in judicial benefits,” he continued.”

    I want him to explain why 17 years is not enough time. All of the County paid for benefits should be eliminated – that might improve the focus on completing the “Study”. This is nothing short of delay tactics so they can continue collecting money they are not entitled to and it is easy to consider that a form of stealing.

  2. Neutral

    The termination shall not be effective as to any judge during his or her current term while that judge continues to serve as a judge in that court or, at the election of the county, when that judge leaves office.

    So how – *exactly* – will the decision affect any sitting judge? (Hint: it won’t.)

  3. Alphonso

    “So how – *exactly* – will the decision affect any sitting judge? “

    The terms are six years – so as long as they can delay the decision into future terms they can pile on the benefits.

  4. roger bockrath

    So we have a two/two vote for the County of Yolo to stop paying State employees, with McGowan abstaining. We have yet to hear why he abstained. If he abstains again on August 3rd, we are still paying State employees on the County of Yolo’s dime. It’s time for Mike McGowan to step up to the plate and protect the County’s budget before we end up filing bankruptcy.

  5. Neutral

    David: Which makes the fight all the more bizarre.

    Not so bizarre when you consider the source, as I’ve noted before. Mrs. Rexroad didn’t raise no dummies.

  6. courtwatch

    The base salary of California judges already makes them the highest paid judges in the nation. Number One. Numero Uno. Here is the official National Judicial Compensation Survey performed by the National Center for State Courts:

    http://contentdm.ncsconline.org/cgi-bin/showfile.exe?CISOROOT=/judicial&CISOPTR=288

    Of the $30,388,289 million total in extra benefits paid by counties to their judges, $23,482,932 is paid to Los Angeles judges. Many counties pay no extra benefits to their judges. This is in a December 15, 2009 Judicial Council report which was required by SBX 211. The summary of benefits paid, by county, can be found in Appendix D to the report, most specifically pages D-10 to D-14. See:

    http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/jc/documents/reports/121509item12.pdf

    SBX 211 is highly controversial, as it legalized payments made by counties to judges which were formerly deemed illegal, and granted retroactive immunity to those who had paid and received the benefits. Perhaps most controversial is the fact that Los Angeles attorney Richard
    Fine — the most determined and vocal critic of the hefty LA county benefits, has been disbarred and jailed since March of 2009, without formal charges, without a trial, without an end to his incarceration in sight.

    The Fine case is a growing public relations nightmare that is not going away–and the story has been featured on CNN.

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/05/24/jailed.lawyer.richard.fine/index.html

    The public outrage about the county benefits, and about Fine’s incarceration (whatever they accuse him of, give him a trial for heaven’s sake!), is growing:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6DuQgQokLM

    In other words, Yolo government is heroicly taking a leadership role in bringing the issue of judicial compensation in California down to earth, at a time when California counties all over the state are laying off county workers and struggling to make ends meet. The nation is watching.

    Congratulations, Yolo government

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