SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Members of the governing body for California judges on Friday showed a clear inclination in favor of a retroactive 3.5 percent pay hike for administrators, after refusing to allow dissenting judges to speak. California’s incoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said she struggled with the decision but ultimately decided in favor, later bringing a sharp critique from a trial court judge.
“I’ve struggled over whether this is a pay raise,” said Cantil-Sakauye who noted that members of the committee considering the raises discussed the matter for two and a half hours before recommending in favor. “I see it as if I make a hundred dollars and give up eight, then I get three dollars back — that’s not a raise as I understand it.”
The incoming Chief Justice, who is up for voter approval next week, also noted that the increases would be self-sustaining, as the money would not be taken from money for trial court operations
“They can call it whatever they want,” said Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard, who watched a telecast of the meeting. “At the end of the day if your check was a $1,000 now its $1,200 that’s a pay raise. I think this game of parsing the language is a big reason why the public is so disgusted with those people who are in power.”
Cantil-Sakauye gave a presentation as chairperson of the new Committee on Accountability and Efficiency recommending that the pay hikes be OK’d. Outgoing Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George, who makes the final decision on the issue, excused himself before the presentation, saying he had a lunch appointment.
Almost eight out of ten of roughly 950 employees working for the Administrative Office of the Courts are eligible for a 3.5 percent salary bump. Pay increases would also be available for some employees of the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. According to the committee’s report, the increases would total about $1.1 million and would be funded with money from the administrative agency’s budget.
Earlier in the week, the committee had denied a request from trial judges to speak against pay increases for administrators while their cash-strapped trial courts suffer from pay cuts, lay-offs and furloughs for employees caused by the state’s financial crisis.
“Although court closures are no longer mandated, many trial courts will be compelled to implement furloughs in any case,” said the letter from the dissenting judges. “Effectively many of our trial employees will continue to suffer up to a 5 percent pay cut.”
After Friday’s Judicial Council meeting, Judge Gilliard in Sacramento commented, “If it takes two and a half hours to justify a 3.5 percent pay raise, it’s probably not the right decision.”
She went on to say that every employee in her court took a five percent pay cut through furloughs and voluntarily gave up a six percent pay increase to which they were entitled after years of bargaining. AOC employees are not unionized, and Gilliard said they “are not contractually obligated or under any legal obligation to get a raise.”
However, AOC Director Bill Vickrey said during the Judicial Council meeting, “We have an obligation to those staff who merit at the top of the scale. If we have the ability to honor that commitment, we should honor it.”
AOC spokesman Philip Carrizosa said in an email that employees will still have to meet their supervisor’s expectations to receive their pay increases. “If an employee’s performance does not meet expectations, the supervisor can deny an MSA [merit salary increase] to that employee.”
Attorney Miriam Aroni Krinsky, also a member of the Judicial Council and its new committee, said she supported the pay increases for those employees who “have had to bear the brunt” of the state’s financial hardships, through a one day a month mandatory furlough and by giving up their cost of living adjustments. “I know when we talk about money it tends to be an emotional issue. I think it’s sad that the outcry by some should be ‘it doesn’t look good’ Sometimes we have to do the right thing.”
Court of Appeal Associate Justice Richard Huffman, another member of the Judicial Council, said some had argued that the money could instead be spent on trial courts. “That isn’t accurate,” he said. “It is not taking money from somebody to give to someone else.” If the pay raises were denied, he said, “Not a thin dime will go to trial courts.”
On the other side of the coin, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Tia Fisher, a member of a judges’ group critical of the AOC’s spending practices called the Alliance of California Judges, was present at the Judicial Council meeting on Friday. She said that if the raises are ultimately approved, as is now likely, the money will come from the taxpayers.
“It’s still all taxpayer money,” she said in an interview. “In our dire budget situation, to propose raises makes no sense. It’s unfortunate that we were not allowed to speak on an issue that’s important to the public.”
“It’s not AOC money; it’s tax payer money,” Gilliard added. “It’s from people who go to court and pay filing fees so they can have their day in court. If you have two and a half hours of time available to you to describe and spin why a 3.5 percent pay raise is not a pay raise, you can certainly spend that time to draft a memo to the Department of Finance and ask to give that money to historically underfunded trial courts.”