1,600 Judges Sue California for Benefits

     LOS ANGELES (CN) - More than 1,600 state judges sued California in a class action, demanding that the state retroactively pay them salaries owed and retirement benefits.
     Lead plaintiff Robert Mallano, presiding judge of the Second District Court of Appeal, claims the state refused to pay judges full salaries and benefits subject to annual increases - calculated by the average percentage increase to state employees' pay.
     At least 1,800 people who are judicial beneficiaries of state pension benefits, including retired judges and surviving family members, also missed out on full payments, according to the lawsuit in Superior Court.
     Under Article III, Section Four of the California Constitution, the Legislature has authority to increase judges' salaries throughout the period of their terms. The judges claim another statute - Section 68203 of the California Government Code - creates a mandatory provision to increase salaries for each fiscal year, which begins on July 1 in California.
     California and its officials "have no discretion regarding the duty to pay salary increases provided in Section 68203," the 9-page lawsuit states.
      Compared to judges in other states, pay for Supreme Court judges in California was the highest in the nation at $218,000 as of January of last year, according to a survey by the National Center for State Courts.
     Annual salaries for California' appellate court judges stood at $204,000. California's trial court judges ranked fourth in the nation in pay with an annual salary of $178,000. However, when adjusted for cost of living, the pay for California's trial judges dropped to 23rd place in the nation.
     Trial judges in Illinois are the highest paid in the nation's state courts both in absolute terms and taking cost of living into consideration, at $182,000 per year.
     Mallano said that five years ago, he decided to help the state tackle California's ballooning budget deficit by taking a 4.62 percent salary cut.
     Despite that sacrifice, he claims that from fiscal year 2008-09 until fiscal year 2012-13 judges did not receive a single increase in pay or benefits.
     Without consulting with the judiciary, the state announced in November 2013 that it would increase salaries and retirement benefits by 1.4 percent retroactively to July 1, 2013 but would not pay the salaries and benefits for the previous four years.
     "Prior to November 2013, plaintiff did not have notice that active justices and judges, retired justices and judges, and judicial pension beneficiaries and survivors would not be paid their full salaries and pension benefits," the lawsuit states.
     Mallano says that he wrote to the lead defendant, California Controller John Chiang, on Dec. 10 and told him the court is obliged to pay judges and their pension beneficiaries retroactive salaries and benefits.
     Chiang never replied.
     Mallano seeks a declaration that California owes the class the unpaid salaries and benefits for the fiscal years at issue.
     He is represented by Raoul Kennedy with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom of Palo Alto.