State lawyers often complain that they’re underpaid. Well, if the governor’s lawsuit against the controller continues, counsel for both sides may actually wind up working pro bono.
That’s because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has entrusted his case, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court Monday, to the legal team at the state Department of Personnel Administration. And the governor, under his interpretation of federal labor law and the state Supreme Court’s decision in White v. Davis, says state salaried professionals, including lawyers, can’t be paid during the current budget impasse. (Controller John Chiang has said he won’t enforce the governor’s pay-cut order.)
So technically, DPA chief counsel K. William Curtis, deputy chief counsel Warren Stracener, assistant chief counsel Linda Mayhew and labor relations counsel Christopher Thomas will be arguing that they shouldn’t be getting paid.
The lawyer across the table from them, chief legal counsel to the controller Rick Chivaro, will try to persuade a Sacramento judge that his opponents and every other state attorney should continue receiving paychecks.
(OK, even if the lawyers’ salaries are withheld they’ll receive back pay once a budget is signed, so technically they’re not working for free. But you can see where this creates a strange courtroom dynamic.)
And in case you were worried, DPA spokeswoman Lynelle Jolley assures everyone that, despite the high-profile lawsuit, DPA lawyers will still have time to handle their usual docket of state employee grievances and disciplinary cases. “They’re able to balance their workload,” Jolley said. “It’s the equivalent of a law firm.”
Except that firms usually pay their lawyers.
A couple other side notes to the lawsuit: The judge assigned to hear the case is Timothy Frawley, the same judge that just last week upheld the attorney general’s ballot title and summary for Proposition 8. Also, while many state employees are worried about their immediate financial futures, apparently judicial branch workers don’t have to. Jolley said today that the DPA has no jurisdiction over judiciary employees, and that it’s up to Chiang to decide whether they get paid. And Chiang, as we already know, says he can’t — and doesn’t intend to — withhold anyone’s pay.
Of course, interpretations about who should get paid and who shouldn’t have changed frequently in recent days, so be sure to consult with your lawyer — paid or not.
— Cheryl Miller