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Friday, April 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Trial Judges Not Allowed to Speak on Pay

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Four trial judges from the Alliance of California Judges, an outspoken faction critical of the state's judicial administration, will not be speaking at Friday's Judicial Council meeting about administrative staff pay raises, after their request to comment was denied through an email from the council's senior attorney.

The trial court judges had planned to speak against a proposal by incoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to increase pay for court administrators retroactively by 3.5 percent. According to a statement from the Judicial Council, the incoming chief plans to recommend reinstatement of a pay increase that was put on hold last year, as a result of California's fiscal woes.

Cantil-Sakauye is scheduled to present the pay raises as chairperson of outgoing Chief Justice Ronald George's new committee on finance and accountability. The letter from the trial judges to the new chief justice asked that the retroactive pay raise "be deferred until there can be further review and input into the proposal."

In an email message sent Wednesday, Judicial Council attorney Nancy Spero told the judges they would not be allowed to speak because they had already sent a letter. "Oral comments would be redundant since the Alliance already has distributed a 3-page written statement to the Judicial Council members and others," she wrote.

But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan said the Alliance of California Judges was only following council rule 10.6, which stipulates that anyone requesting to speak at a meeting must submit a written statement beforehand. In an interview, Horan said, "The idea that the request was denied due to redundancy is not accurate."

Over the telephone, Spero said she could not comment on the matter. But Judicial Council spokesperson Lynn Holton said the request to speak was denied because "the item they requested to speak on isn't an action item. The Judicial Council will not be voting on that issue."

Holton said it will be up to outgoing Chief Justice Ronald George whether to reinstate the pay increases, which were suspended last year to save money. Holton also noted that the alliance of trial judges will be allowed to speak on another topic, the allocation of trial court funds.

But, Judge Horan noted, the alliance had not submitted any written materials on that issue.

"They are going to let us speak on the budget, but we didn't submit anything about the budget," Horan said.

In an article published late last year, the Daily Journal reported that pay for some administrators had been bumped substantially between 2008 and 2009. But those sums included the 3.5% merit pay increment that was held back and that is now the subject on which the trial judges wish to speak.

The overall hike, with the merit increment, would have brought the pay level for top regional administrators to $198,000 per year, the article said. It also reported that base salaries for top local administrators ranged from $78,000 to $229,000 per year.

Judge Horan said the denial of the right to speak on the pay hike was unjust.

"Our branch, the judicial branch, is based on the precept that people should be given a fair and full opportunity to be heard, and that includes meetings of the Judicial Council," Horan said. "It is sad to me they have disregarded that precept by using gimmickry to deny us the opportunity to speak to this very important issue."

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