(CNS) - A minuscule pay raise for California's judges has revived a longstanding conflict over judicial pay, and a statute designed to take politics out of judges' salaries that is doing just the opposite.
The Judicial Council, the rule-making body for the courts in California, sent shockwaves throughout the judiciary when it sent a memo to all the judges, telling them they would be receiving a mere 1.36 percent increase.
While the memo conceded that the number seemed quite small, it explained that the low percentage was due to the fact that before July 1 only four of the state's 21 collective bargaining units had finalized their work agreements.
Judicial salaries are determined by Government Code §68203 which ties their pay to the average of what state employees earn. The judges' raise was thus calculated based on an across-the-board average of all 21 state bargaining units as of July 1.
But most of the bargaining units had not negotiated a final agreement by then. They were nevertheless each counted in the overall average as a net zero increase, bringing the average pay hike down to 1.36%.
The meager raise brought to the surface a long-simmering dispute over how that code should be interpreted.
"You're seeing in that number an expression of hostility toward the judicial branch and judicial salaries," said Judge Steve White of Sacramento. White heads the Alliance of California Judges which has advocated for spending reforms and judicial independence since it was formed in 2009.
The more longstanding California Judges Association, established in 1929, also criticized the small size of the pay hike.
Presiding Judge Todd Bottke of Tehama just took over the CJA presidency at the end of September and he is already facing a tough fight with Governor Jerry Brown over a contentious issue.
In answer to written questions, Bottke said, "While any initial number may be characterized as `small,' CJA believes and expects that a fair reading of the statute will allow for a larger increase."
Brown's personnel department says it plans to review increases next year, and if any of the 17 remaining bargaining units ratify agreements by July 1, 2017, judges will see a raise effective on that date, according to a memo sent by the Judicial Council, which operates under the aegis of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
The dispute centers on two principal points: The average raise for state wide employees was calculated by the California Human Relations Department based on an average that was skewed low because of the small number of bargaining units that had finalized their contracts. And the raise will not be retractively adjusted when the remaining 17 bargaining units sign their agreements.
"CJA believes retroactivity is what should be afforded to the judicial officers based on a plain and fair reading of the statute, and if there is going to be retroactivity for the bargaining units there should certainly be retroactivity for the judges," said Bottke in an interview.
Brown spokesman H.D. Palmer said the raise has been calculated the way it always has with regard to retroactivity.
"The way the Government Code reads, the calculation is done as of July 1st of each year based on whatever agreements have been ratified by the Legislature at that point in time. If more are agreed to in August, for example, they are used in the calculation the next July 1. This is how the code section has historically worked."