Why is Yolo County Paying Judges 40K Per Year in Benefits?
A controversy that has been brewing for some time between the County and Yolo County Judges may be exploding as a deadline approaches as to whether the county, strapped for cash, will have to continue to pay judges, ostensibly under state and not county control over 40 thousand dollars per year in benefits that Supervisor Matt Rexroad has likened to a “slushfund.”
This morning, the Woodland Daily Democrat is reporting that it is a done deal and that the county will have to continue to pay the benefit for the next two years. “By not acting before today, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors has committed taxpayers to providing $80,324 in additional benefits to Yolo Superior Court judges over the next two years.”
Mr. Blacklock in a letter dated June 30, 2010 writes, “On March 25, 2009 the county notified the court that it would terminate financing for county provided judicial benefits pursuant to pursuant to Government Code section 68220. Since that time the county has postponed terminating these benefits pending release of an Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) report on the subject. That report was published December 2009.”
“The preliminary 2010-11 county budget continues to fund these benefits through September 2010 to allow the Board an opportunity to review this report and future options,” Mr. Blacklock continued. “In preparing for this Board presentation, however, the County noted the requirement to notice the AOC and affected judges pursuant to 68220(b). Tills notice acts as the 180 days written notice required by Government Code section 68220(b).”
The crucial portion is here, “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. 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.”
On Tuesday, Supervisor Rexroad responded to a letter from William Vickrey, from the Office of the Courts in Sacramento. “It just furthers my resolve to kill this benefit,” he said during the correspondence portion of the meeting. “I can’t wait until it comes up again so that I have the opportunity to vote to kill it as soon as possible.”
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.”
Mr. Rexroad indicated that while $40,000 may be a drop in the bucket considering the operating budget of $271 million and the deficit, he said it could translate to health care for one of Yolo County’s indigent, or salary for one of the 48 people who lost their jobs earlier this month.
The Daily Democrat on the other hand reports, “Rosenberg said the Board of Supervisors should realize the courts are part of the county’s criminal justice team, which has helped to process cases quickly, effectively reducing the jail population and realizing savings by renting out beds to state prisoners and closing down a portion of the Leinberger Detention Facility. “The result is saving the county hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “The $40,000 in benefits pales in significance to those kinds of effort and savings. It would be very shortsighted of the county to not maintain the status quo.””
According the Daily Democrat, Mr. Rexroad said that while he appreciates Rosenberg’s hard work, “We are not in the position as a county to be handing out bonuses.” He said the continuance of what he refers to as the judges’ “slush fund” will only be delayed because the Administrative Office of the Courts controls the study and it is in judges’ best interest to prolong its release to the Legislature.
From our standpoint, I do not see that Judge Rosenberg has a leg to stand on. Just yesterday we received a press release from the county indicating that the Public Defender’s office would be closed to the public every Friday afternoon due to staff furloughs as a means to save money. They have had to lay off numerous support staff according to the release.
The idea that Judge Rosenberg seems to imply a quid pro quo between his efforts to reduce the jail population through better court administration and continuation of the slush fund is anathema to the process.
The bottom line is that the state and not the county is responsible for paying for the Courts, it makes no sense that county should be flipping the bill for extra judicial benefits. Matt Rexroad is exactly right on this issue.
At a time when people in Yolo County are having their benefits cut to the bone, at a time when the county is cutting services to the poor, the elderly, and children, at a time when county employees are being laid off and furloughed, Judge Rosenberg is out there fighting to keep his perk. And then he dares to imply that somehow he earned it by saving the county money by speeding up the processing of jail inmates through the court system.
—David M. Greenwald reporting