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CA Officials, Judges Accused of Conspiracy

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - California officials granted themselves immunity from their decision to boost judges' pay in violation of the state Constitution and then retaliated against anyone who objected, an attorney and her clients claim in Federal Court.

Attorney Nina Ringgold and her clients ASAP Copy and Print and owner Ali Tazhibi accuse California officials, judges and court administrators of conspiring to silence opposition to section 5 of Senate Bill 11, which "grants retroactive immunity to governmental entities, officers and employees for conditions determined ... to be unconstitutional."

California's Constitution bars judges from receiving supplemental benefits that effectively raise their salaries, according to the lawsuit.

In 2008, a California appeals court found that Los Angeles Superior Court judges received salaries of $172,000 each in 2007, plus $46,346 in benefits paid by the county. The court said the judges cannot receive employment benefits on top of the salaries set by the state Legislature.

Ringgold says "the supplemental compensation was designed to maintain an insider group and at the same time dilute the voting strength in minority communities."

SB 11 "was enacted by emergency legislation" on Feb. 20, 2009, after the ruling, to retroactively shield state officials from being prosecuted or disciplined based on the judges' unconstitutional pay, according to Ringgold, who made similar allegations in a March 2012 lawsuit.

The provision states that "no governmental entity, or officer or employee of a governmental entity, shall incur any liability or be subject to prosecution or disciplinary action because of benefits provided to a judge under the official action of a governmental entity prior to the effective date of this act on the ground that those benefits were not authorized by law."

Ringgold claims she and her clients suffered retaliation and discrimination based on their opposition to this retroactive immunity provision.

"Any person that attempts to raise a legitimate constitutional issue and question concerning the impact of section 5 of SBX2 11 or the operation of the state court is submitted to threats, intimidation, and violence to their person and property," according to the lawsuit.

"Because there have been complaints lodged with the state attorney general and other law enforcement agencies, the defendants' non-action supports the continued conspiracy," Ringgold adds.

One of the ways they retaliated, according to the plaintiffs, was by denying Ringgold reasonable accommodations for her disability.

She says she suffered a "life-threatening medical emergency resulting in a physical disability" in 2010. She and her clients were intentionally denied phone access to the court and reasonable rule modifications, were charged fees for their accommodation requests, and were saddled with "undue and unwarranted administrative obstacles," according to the lawsuit.

Ringgold says her law practice and clients were further subjected to the California Vexatious Litigant Statute "as a penalty and form of viewpoint discrimination."

The attorney specifically accuses Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Barbara Scheper of sealing crucial documents in an action for unfair business practices filed on behalf of Ringgold's client and co-plaintiff, the small immigrant merchant ASAP Copy and Print.

ASAP allegedly bought a copier from Canon Business Solutions under a false lease assignment, based on promises that never panned out.

The sealing order "specifies that if there is a failure to abide by the sealing condition that damages and other penalties may be imposed against ASAP, Ringgold and the law office," the plaintiffs claim.

"The false lease assignment acts to nullify everything promised in the marketing promotion," the lawsuit states. "The sealing condition allows the discriminatory and fraudulent business practice to continue."

Ringgold and ASAP claim the defendants' actions violate various provisions of the state and federal constitutions, the Public Trust Doctrine, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Civil Rights Act and numerous civil codes. They are also suing for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

ASAP and Tazhibi are represented by Ringgold, whose lawyer is Charles Kinney.

Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris, Los Angeles County, Los Angeles County Superior Court and a number of judges are named as defendants in the complaint.

The California Attorney General's Office has not returned a request for comment.

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