Volunteering for once-a-month, unpaid furlough days to help cut costs is the chic thing for staffers to do at the California Supreme Court, First District Court of Appeal and the Administrative Office of the Courts.
But the 26 justices on the Supreme Court and First District can’t get in on that action, even if they want to show solidarity in these harsh financial times. They’ve been advised not to take part, or risk doing damage to their retirement benefits.
Oh, the bureaucracy! … After the jump.
Legal Pad is still scratching its head after talking to three people about the problem. But AOC Executive Director William Vickrey put it this way: “The judges’ retirement is calculated on a daily basis, so you have to earn a full year’s salary to get a full year’s retirement credit. If you have not worked the full 20 years [necessary for retirement] and you participate in the furlough program and your intent is to retire without working additional time to make it up, then that reduces your retirement base.”
“The alternative, of course,” he added, “would be to work, take your pay and then donate back to the state an amount of money that’s equal to your salary after taxes for that day.”
Don’t worry if that isn’t clear. California Chief Justice Ronald George didn’t seem to understand it completely himself. He just knows that he was advised by AOC attorneys that it would be wisest if the state’s justices stay at work.
Vickrey said no justices had contacted him directly about taking off one day a month, but that he heard there were “conversations” within the courts about it.
In an email, Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar said she might have been interested “in theory, but since I was not, in fact, going to do so, I was not required to weigh any interest I may have had against the impact of my doing so.”
Lynn Holton, spokeswoman for the Supreme Court and AOC, said about 525 employees of those agencies and the First District are participating in the furlough program, which began on Jan. 1 and continues to June. Counting the other five courts of appeal around the state, she said, it has resulted in savings of $1.75 million.
People such as Frank McGuire, the First District’s managing attorney, and James Heideman, a judicial staff attorney for the First District’s Division Three, said they felt inspired to take off for the court’s greater good.
“Frankly, I can take that hit,” Heideman said, “and I know some people at the court couldn’t weather that kind of reduction.”
Beth Jay, principal attorney to George, said the Supreme Court also has delayed purchasing new equipment — such as copiers and printers — and put off filling some staff vacancies. George and Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno noted that justices are traveling less and are holding some meetings by telephone or videoconference, rather than face to face.
Said George: “It’s just to show that we’re doing our share.”
Now if something could be done to cut the justices some slack on furloughs.
— Mike McKee