SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California's new incoming Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye plans to make a controversial recommendation at this week's Judicial Council meeting: increasing the pay of the judicial branch's administrative staff.
The proposal was one of the first items considered by the Judicial Council's new financial accountability committee, established this year by retiring Chief Justice Ron George. The committee held its inaugural meeting last month, which was closed to the public.
The Advisory Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency, whose members were selected by George, was designed to oversee spending within the judicial branch, review financial audit reports and, according to George, "promote and further accountability, transparency, efficiency, and understanding."
A report the committee released this week stated that the 3.5 percent increase for the Administrative Office of the Court's (AOC) eligible employees will cost about $1.1 million over the next year.
"These costs are not funded by the Legislature and are instead managed within the agency's own budget," according to the report.
The report also noted that the increases were suspended last year to save money, and now 79 percent of AOC employees will be entitled to a step increase this fiscal year.
A dissenting group of California judges has slammed the committee for recommending the increases amid statewide court employee layoffs and court closures.
The group plans to voice its concerns at Friday's meeting, where the pay raises will be considered for approval.
In a letter sent to Cantil-Sakauye, the Alliance of California Judges called the recommendation "ill timed," and criticized the accountability committee's claim that trial courts kept up their own 5.1 percent step increases.
"It is unfair to use trial court step increases that are part of negotiated union contracts in past years as justification for this current situation," the group's 10 directors wrote. "Many courts are now in the midst of negotiating new union agreements, and there simply is no money in the trial court operations budget for salary increases. Many courts are operating at significant staff shortages. Most trial courts have therefore substantially reduced their overall payroll cost."
The alliance's disapproval adds to its mounting criticism over the AOC's practices this year, among them the AOC's continued effort to implement a statewide court computer system estimated to cost about $1.3 billion. The AOC also drew scrutiny from the California Legislature in August, when Director William Vickrey and Chief Deputy Ron Overholt found themselves before California Assembly's Committee on Accountability to answer questions on the agency's allegedly unbridled spending on the technology project.
"The AOC seems to have lost its way," the directors wrote. "We hope that the Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency will consider a broad re-evaluation of AOC practices, including the possibility of reducing its size substantially and transferring many functions to the local level. At a minimum, we request that this proposal be deferred until there can be further review and input into the proposal."
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