Branch leadership is now claiming that the recent Judicial Council pay raises granted by the Chief Justice are simply “merit salary adjustments.”
In reality, these are discretionary and ill-timed pay raises that are siphoning funds needed to operate our courts, undermining public confidence in the judiciary and further eroding the AOC’s credibility in the Legislature.
Attached or linked are four documents providing greater perspective on this wrong-headed decision:
First is an AOC staff memo “spinning” and defending the pay raises.
Second (at this link) is a 2010 Courthouse News report about the Chief Justice’s earlier uncertainty over AOC pay raises as then-chair of the Accountability Committee. “I’ve struggled over whether this is a pay raise,” she said at the time, “I see it as if I make a hundred dollars and give up eight, then I get three dollars back — that’s not a raise as I understand it.”
Third is another Courthouse News article about last week’s meeting of the AOC, where the incoming Director of the Department of Finance appeared, and where two council members suggested that the judicial branch is exempt from legislative and executive oversight when it comes to spending public funds — a poor understanding of how our tripartite government works.
Fourth is a Recorder article detailing legislative reaction to the AOC raises, making it clear they have further harmed us among policymakers.
The AOC pay raises are another setback as the Branch struggles to recover financially — a needless self-inflicted wound.
Directors, Alliance of California Judges
From: Asher, Katie [mailto:Katie.Asher@jud.ca.gov]
Sent: Friday, August 23, 2013 4:42 PM
To: General: Bench-Bar Coalition-copy
Subject: Judicial Branch Step Increases/MSAs...
August 23, 2013
To : All Bench-Bar Coalition Members
From: Cory Jasperson, OGA Director
Office of Governmental Affairs
Judicial Council of California - Administrative Office of the Courts
916-323-3121, Fax: 916-323-4347, email@example.com
From: Jasperson, Cory
Sent: Friday, August 23, 2013 4:37 PM
To: Asher, Katie
Subject: Judicial Branch Step Increases/MSAs...
We’ve received several inquiries this afternoon regarding a Pay and Benefits Memorandum from the Chief Justice (see attached).
Here’s some detail that may be helpful:
The Chief Justice’s memo to the Controller was issued on July 1, 2013, the first day of the new fiscal year. It authorizes a 3.5 percent step increase (Merit Salary Adjustment) to eligible employees that have not reached the top of their salary classification. This is consistent with the annual practice for all state civil service employees (although annual state step increases are higher at 5.0%).
The Chief’s memo only applies to eligible state judicial branch employees, namely the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeal, the Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts, the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, and the California Judicial Library.
As you know, any MSAs/COLAs or other changes to benefits/compensation of trial court employees are all collectively bargained with employee labor groups at the local level.
Some additional background:
Typically, employees are hired at the bottom of the range and there are five steps to reaching the top. Last fiscal year, for example, 58.9% of employees in the Administrative Office of the Courts were eligible for step increases.
No COLAs have been given to state judicial branch employees since 2007.
State judicial branch employees have also experienced a pay cut of 4.62 percent since 2009 due to monthly furloughs.
Since July 2011, AOC staffing has been reduced by over 330 positions (30 percent).
At one of the Chief’s very first press conferences she said she opposed suspending step increases as they’re part of the salary range an employee is promised when hired.
Here’s what the Chief said today:
“Public servants working in the appellate courts, the AOC, and the Habeas Corpus Center have had a pay cut of 4.62 percent for the last five years due to monthly furloughs. Thanks to prudent management, we will be able to reduce furloughs to six days this fiscal year, so the employees will receive a 2.31 percent pay cut. Only those employees who have been eligible for 3.5 percent step increases—that is, those who have not hit the top of the salary range they were hired at—were able to partially offset the pay cuts. Step increases occur in all three branches of government and at all levels throughout the state. I see no reason why employees who work for the Chief Justice, the appellate justices, or the Judicial Council should be treated any differently.”
Hope this helps, let me know if you have any questions or would like additional information.
Cory Jasperson, OGA Director
"Serving the courts for the benefit of all Californians"
Courthouse News Service
State Finance Director Signals Continued Oversight of Judiciary Branch Budget
By MARIA DINZEO
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - In a meeting with members of the governing body for California's courts, the incoming director of the governor's finance department said the old days of simply accepting the judiciary branch's proposed budget are unlikely to return.
Michael Cohen, who is taking over from outgoing finance director Ana Matosantos in September, met with the Judicial Council on Thursday for a rundown of the budget process.
"We've turned the corner on having our budget balanced, but it's very narrowly balanced. We're only looking for those requests that meet the strict guidelines of the letter in terms of being the absolute, most critical needs," Cohen said, referring to the budget change proposals that are due on September 13, a process through which the judicial branch can request more money.
"Is there ever any special opportunity given to the leadership of the separate branches of government to make the case to the governor, to the Department of Finance, as to increasing the amounts for them to be included in the governor's budget?" Justice Marvin Baxter asked, pointing out that during times of prosperity, the governor would simply sign off on the budget submitted by the judiciary.
Baxter asked Cohen if he could see the return of that system.
"Assuming that the corner has been turned, do you envision -- based on the separation of powers -- that the governor would accept the budget submitted by the judicial branch as that portion of the governor's budget?"
"To be quite honest, I wouldn't recommend it," Cohen replied.
He continued, referring to the governor, "Part of his responsibility in proposing a budget is to review the budget of the judicial branch, and so it certainly is his prerogative to pass it on. But from a budgeting prospective, it makes sense for my department to review it and make recommendations for any changes. I would expect that to continue."
"Does our branch enjoy any priority or sensitivity with respect to a budget change proposal?" Judge David De Alba of Sacramento asked,
While Cohen said both the Legislature and the judicial branch are given deference, the governor gets the last word.
"There is obviously a level of respect given to the legislature and the judicial branch," he said, later adding, "In terms of priorities and where the dollars go, that is the governor's priority. His priorities are my priorities," Cohen said.
Some judges were more specific in their concerns, such as the governor's plan to sweep the trial courts' reserve funds, used to meet obligations like payroll, into one statewide pot. Under the plan, courts are to keep only one percent of their operating budgets in reserve.
"Trial courts are very unique in California. You have 58 trial courts that are independent and have to operate their own budgets, if you will," Judge David Rosenberg of Yolo County said. "They have to be responsible for their own cash flow, payroll and all the things that a court has to take care of. Our single greatest concern is not having sufficient funds for cash flow. We are talking about paying the bills. Our concern is without a reasonable reserve, we will not be able to pay the bills. We will literally have to shut courts down. What are we going to do about that?"
Cohen suggested that he may be receptive to changes.
"As we continue down the road of implementing the reserve policy, anything on that cash flow side, we're open to making any changes," he said. "Certainly we have no interest in creating a situation where courts cannot pay the bills."
Capital Accounts: Chief Raises Hackles With Latest Pay Hikes
2013-08-23 02:38:49 PM
SACRAMENTO — Sometimes good policy is just bad politics. It's an old saw that Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye must be pondering these days.
Late Thursday a document surfaced showing that Cantil-Sakauye authorized what are effectively 3.5 percent pay increases for hundreds of employees of the Administrative Office of the Courts, the appellate courts, the Supreme Court and the Habeas Corpus Resource Center. The order, dated July 3, was signed just six days after the governor enacted a state budget giving the judiciary an extra $63 million — and clear instructions to spend that money on keeping local courtrooms open.
News of the pay increases has not been received warmly in one legislative corner.
"It's like keeping cable when your lights are being turned off. It is crazy to me," said Fredericka McGee, general counsel to Assembly Speaker John Perez.
The pay raises are more precisely referred to as step increases, which boost workers' income as they advance from one level to the next due to years of service and satisfactory work evaluations. The annual step increases have been available to eligible judicial branch workers for years, minus a one-year budget-related hiatus in 2009.
Cantil-Sakauye saw no justification for stopping them in 2013 despite the ongoing budget drama.
"Step increases occur in all three branches of government and at all levels throughout the state," the chief justice said through a spokesman on Friday. "I see no reason why employees who work for the chief justice, the appellate justices, or the Judicial Council should be treated any differently."
But McGee and others remember the months California's judicial leaders spent this spring and summer painting for legislators a horrific picture of the pain years of massive budget cuts had wrought upon their constituents.
Inland Empire residents were being forced to drive hours through the desert to find an open courtroom. Unable to obtain a protective order from a budget-strapped court, a woman and her child had to sleep in their car, too afraid to return home to an abuser. San Joaquin County Superior Court had simply stopped processing small claims cases.
Sympathetic lawmakers and the governor, lobbied heavily by judges, lawyers and local nonprofit advocates, allocated the extra $63 million to the judicial branch. The money came with a caveat, however, as the chairman of the committee overseeing the judiciary's budget explained.
"It cannot be used for raises, it cannot be used for construction or infrastructure projects," Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, said in June. "It can only be used to keep the courts open and provide access to justice."
Branch leaders say that added money is going where it was intended. The $1 million price tag to give step increases to 402 employees will be covered by other funds. And those workers will still be taking unpaid furlough days, although the number has been cut from 12 a year to six.
But to McGee, the distinction doesn't matter.
"When you're talking about who has immediate contact with the public, it's the trial courts," she said. "You have to frontload your resources where the greatest need is."
Behind the scenes, some AOC and Judicial Council members grouse that any legislative criticism is hypocritical. They note that lawmakers got a 5 percent pay raise this year — courtesy of the Citizens Compensation Committee. And more than 1,000 legislative employees enjoyed a salary hike last year.
That's true. But the Legislature still holds the ax over the judiciary's budget. And the optics of the chief justice handing our pay bumps amid such judicial misery just sharpens her critics' blades. The Alliance of California Judges issued a press release Thursday night promising that its members would not let the step increases "go unnoticed."
"It has become all too clear that keeping our local courts open is not the first priority of the Judicial Council or branch leadership," the judges' group said. "We call upon the Legislature to direct that a top to bottom audit of the AOC be conducted."
There's little chance the Legislature would do anything in reaction to the pay order this year. But lawmakers, most now serving under extended term limits, may have longer memories during budget negotiations next year.