California Judges Want Millions in Back Pay While Shortchanged Courts Cut Services

Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Judge Robert Mallano

More than 1,600 California judges are party to a class-action lawsuit (pdf) seeking back pay and raises they say were illegally denied them over three years because of the state’s dire fiscal condition.

If they get what they’re asking for, the salary reduction for other employees that lowered the state’s pension liability $97 million could be wiped out. Ed Mendel at Calpensions wrote that California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) Chief Actuary Alan Milligan told the board this month that he hadn’t actually crunched the numbers, and didn’t know what effect the pay raises would have down the road. But pensions are based on salaries.

The raises are not very large. However, the class-action suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of the 1,600 judges and 1,800 beneficiaries, retirees and survivors maintains that California law obliges the state to grant the same pay raise to them as it gives to other state workers. That was 0.97% in fiscal year 2008-09, 0.22% in 2009-10 and 0.21% in 2010-11. Instead, their salaries were frozen.

As Sacramento begins to rack up a big budget surplus, money is trickling out to the judiciary. Last November, the judges were promised that cumulative 1.4% raise, but it was only going to retroactive to July.

Second District Court of Appeal Judge Robert Mallano filed the class-action suit in January for all the back pay, and then retired the next month.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye was not pleased with the $105 million budget boost that Governor Jerry Brown proposed for the courts in 2014-15 and in January delivered a scathing speech questioning California’s commitment to “a fundamental right of a functioning democracy.” Noting that the courts had lost $1 billion in funding over the past six years, she asked for $1.2 billion over three years to restore basic services.

The decline in the judicial budget has resulted in closure of 51 courthouses and 205 courtrooms since 2010, according to the courts. Thirty courts operate with reduced public service hours and 37 courts have reduced self-help or family law facilitator services. At least 22 have reduced court interpreter services in civil cases.

And, of course, the judges' pay was frozen.

State high court and appellate court justices are the highest-paid in the country and trial judges are the fourth-highest paid, until you factor in cost of living. A survey (pdf) by the National Center for State Courts ranked California trial court judges 23th in January 2013 and noted that not many states were raising wages. Still, they don’t do badly.

Supreme Court justices average $218,000, appellate judges $204,599 and trial court judges $178,789. Cost of living knocks that last number down to $133,203.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

1,600 Judges Sue California for Benefits (by Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service)

Suit Seeks Back Pay, Pension Boost for All Judges (by Ed Mendel, Calpensions)

Justice Robert M. Mallano Files Class Action Suit for Back Pay (by Michael J. Peil, Metropolitan News-Enterprise)

Judges, County Supervisors, To Get Raises (by Greg Moran, U-T San Diego)

Survey of Judicial Salaries (National Center for State Courts) (pdf)

Chief Justice: Add $1.2 Billion to Brown’s Court Budget to Avoid Closures, Layoffs (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Robert M. Mallano v. California Controller John Chiang et al (Los Angeles County Superior Court) (pdf)

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