When talk of court closures and possible furloughs as a solution to the judicial budget crisis first began earlier this year, the one thing on every court employee’s mind, aside from how it would affect them, was how it would affect judges. It’s one thing for court employees to take a cut in pay, but if everyone was going to suffer the majority of court employees wanted to be sure that the judges got to feel the cut as well.
One of the solutions was for the judges to take a cut in pay for each day the courts were closed as mandated by the AOC and the Judicial Council. That meant one day a month with no pay through the 2009/2010 fiscal year. Court employees immediately applauded the solution. That is until everyone figured out that any monies taken as a cut in pay would NOT go back to each judges’ individual courts but instead would go to….I’ll give you one guess….yup, you guessed it, the AOC.
So, that left judges in a bit of a quandary. The majority of judges wanted to participate in the program to cut their pay but what was the point if it was only going to go back to the AOC? And there was absolutely NO guarantee as far as the AOC Watcher could tell that any of those monies would then be returned to the counties they came from. What’s a judge supposed to do? Well, there may not be much time for judges to dither and ponder the pros and cons of participating in the paycut program. Why? Because the campaign to whip the judges into line has begun.
Last week Catherine Ho of the Daily Journal wrote an article about how “93 percent of Los Angeles Superior Court’s 550 judges and commissioners took a voluntary pay cut for July’s furlough day.” The article detailed how judges and commissioners were sacrificing anywhere from $585 to $688 for each furlough day. Certainly no chump change. And mind you the article said 93 percent of the judges participated. Which, if you read the printed edition of the Daily Journal article, got readers wondering who the other seven percent of judicial officers were that didn’t participate. Well, you needed only to turn a couple pages of the paper to find the answer. The Daily Journal not only printed the names of the 7 judges and 29 commissioners who DIDN’T participate, but it also printed photos of five of the judges. Yup. It wasn’t enough to print their names. Photos would be published so people would know who the judges were. Luckily two judges managed to escape having their photos printed.
The AOC Watcher wants to make it very clear that it applauds those judges who participated in the program. But before court employees start whooping and hollering they should be aware that many questions about the monies taken from the judges’ pay still have not been resolved. Even the judges who voted for the paycut admit it they aren’t sure that their own cash starved courts will see any of their paycuts returned to their counties as evidenced by a comment by Judge Charles McCoy.
“The notion that judges would want to contribute directly to their courts is understandable,” said Mary M. Roberts, general counsel for the AOC. Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy said he does not know how the money donated by Los Angeles County judges will be used. But some judges said they want it to be given to court staff, to make up some of their lost wages.
At least two of the judges who didn’t take the cut in pay raised some very good questions about the paycut scheme.
Judge Anita Dymant, who has not signed up for the contribution plan, said she was not present at the July meeting where judges discussed the option to give back to the local courts. She is considering participating, but has not made a decision yet. “I’m considering the options,” said Dymant, who is assigned to the Stanley Mosk courthouse. “How the plan is structured, what the purpose of it is, how it differs from the state plan and whether there’s a reason to do one or the other.”
Judge Charles Horan said he doesn’t know if he will sign up to contribute, and wanted to wait and see what the state-mandated closures would mean for Los Angeles court furloughs. “My understanding of this contribution in LA was to avoid furlough days,” he said. “If in fact the state is mandating that we close, I don’t see how we can accomplish those goals.”
Now the AOC Watcher has received word that judges have two options. They can either take a pretax cut, which would go to the AOC, or they could make a donation in the same amount back to their courts. Judges opting for the second option would simply make checks out to the court CEOs in their courts.
And if this article is just the beginning of a campaign to publicly shame judicial officers who don’t participate in the paycut scheme, and I suspect it is, it’s nothing but a mere smokescreen for the real issue that court employees, transparency activists, and the media should be focused on. And that’s the MILLIONS of dollars that the AOC still has in its coffers that it refuses to turn over to local superior courts to avoid furloughs and layoffs. The AOC is still stubbornly clinging to any and all court funds it has collected to fund programs as it sees fit without any input from the local courts it’s taken the monies from.
For instance, the AOC refuses to budge on moving any of the millions it has budgeted for the statewide computer program that it says California courts need. Which is rather ironic that the AOC would rather spend millions of dollars on a computer program that may not have court employees to run it due to layoffs. Judicial paycuts and who has or hasn’t participated is sizzling. It sells papers and gets people talking. The AOC Watcher understands that. But let’s not let all that sizzle distract us from the meat. And that meat is the millions of dollars that the AOC has and refuses to allocate back to courts to prevent closures, furloughs, and layoffs.