Monday, October 13, 2008

Court of Appeal Invalidates Extra Compensation for Los Angeles Judges

In a decision sure to raise at least a few judicial hackles, the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, has held that the County of Los Angeles may not give Superior Court judges in that county additional compensation over and above that provided by the Legislature. The decision in Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles (available here) is based on Article VI, Section 19, which provides that the Legislature shall "prescribe compensation for judges of courts of record." Government Code Section 53200.3 authorized each county to provide to judges the same or similar benefits that it provides "to employees." Given the wide variety among county employees and their compensation, the Court held that this statute enbodied the sort of standardless discretion that violated the rule against delegation of authority set forth in cases like Kugler v. Yocum, 69 Cal. 2d 371 (1969). In reaching this conclusion, the court relied heavily on two prior attorney general opinions, the second of which had opined that the current version of Section 53200.3 was unconstitutional, as well as Martin v. County of Contra Costa, 8 Cal. App. 3d 856 (1971), which approved legislation that tied judicial compensation to that of "comparable" county employees.

This seems like an important issue that might well get reviewed by the California Supreme Court. On the other hand, it would be easy for the Legislature to fix the problem identified by the court--it need only pass a statute similar to the one upheld in Martin. Even if the statute were retroactive, it would not be a gift of public funds, for the reasons identified in the Sturgeon opinion.

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