Remember that challenge to the generous helping of county-paid benefits given to judges in L.A.? Two years ago, a Fourth District panel said local perks violated a requirement that judicial compensation be “prescribed” by the state.
Soon after, the Legislature enacted a temporary fix that enshrined the existing, unequal benefits with promises that it would work out a comprehensive and equitable overhaul of judicial compensation.
The overhaul hasn't happened yet. But on Tuesday, the Fourth District said the interim fix passed muster, if only in the interim.
By freezing the status quo, the patchwork of perks is now “prescribed” by the state, wrote Justice Patricia Benke in Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles. And by requiring the Judicial Council to report on county-paid benefits, the Legislature “expressed its intent that, as far as is practical, benefits should be provided to judges on an equitable basis.”
She noted, however, that her reasoning turns on the notion that the fix is temporary. If a comprehensive overhaul doesn't happen, she cautioned that the fix would “most likely give rise to further challenges by taxpayers or members of the bench themselves.”
Given the no-win nature of such a thing, not to mention the $26 billion deficit, it's hard to imagine a comprehensive overhaul ever happening. To raise all judges to L.A. levels -- as the judges want -- would cost perhaps $100 million, and would represent a windfall for judges in counties where there's no fair argument they're underpaid.