Looks like Los Angeles County judges may be keeping those $46,000 in extra benefits after all.
Word came down late Friday that legislative leaders have included language addressing local judicial benefits in a $40 billion budget deficit fix scheduled for a vote on Saturday.
The proposal, as we hear it, is this: Counties that currently provide judges with extra judicial perks — we’re looking at you especially, Los Angeles County — would continue doing so. They could choose to eventually stop paying the extras, but only after the current term of each judge on the bench expires.
The devil is in the details, and the details are after the jump ...
For instance, a judge with five years left in his term would have to receive the same level of county-provided benefits for those remaining five years. After that — assuming the judge stays on the bench — the county could stop paying the extras and he’d only get the menu of health care, insurance and pension benefits that the state already provides to every trial court judge. Or the county could voluntarily choose to continue offering that judge the benefits.
Counties could also choose whether to provide the benefits to new judges or to set up a two-tier system that grandfathers the goods to sitting jurists.
Appellate court justices are out of luck under this plan. So are the judges presiding in counties that currently offer squat in terms of extra perks. The top Senate Democrat already killed a plan to boost benefits for judges statewide after labor and social services groups howled.
Now, just because the proposal made it into the budget fix doesn’t mean it will make it into law. Whether there are enough legislative votes to pass this whole convoluted budget package is a question that has seemingly had a different answer by the hour. If the spending plan goes down in the Legislature, so does the judges’ bill, at least for now.
Valentine’s Day is shaping up to be an interesting one under the Capitol dome. But don’t expect a lot of chocolates and flowers.
Update, Sunday night: A grueling 48-hour legislative session ground to an end tonight, and there’s good news and bad news for the courts. The good news, if you’re an LA judge anyway, is that lawmakers are poised to enact a Sturgeon fix that would keep county-paid benefits flowing to local judges. Legislators also seemed ready to authorize judicial leaders to spend $5 billion in bond money on court construction. (Control of the purse strings got stripped during last year’s budget battle.)
The bad news is both those bills are stuck in the morass that is the current budget stand-off. Nothing is moving out of the Legislature while Republicans and Democrats argue around the clock over tax hikes and spending cuts.
The larger debate has also overshadowed the big hit this budget has planned for the judiciary – more than $100 million would be cut from court operations if the revised spending plan ever gets approved. The courts would get a big chunk of that money back, plus funding for 100 new judgeships, if California secures a certain amount of cash from the recently passed federal stimulus package, however.
Of course that’s all moot right now as legislators continue their game of budget chicken. Anyone know a good bankruptcy lawyer?
— Cheryl Miller