Friday, November 7, 2008

Court of Appeal Modifies Sturgeon Opinion

The Court of Appeal has issued an order (here) changing some of the language in the Sturgeon opinion, but not the result or the essential details of the court's reasoning. Some changes correct typos, while others are (slightly) more substantive. The most significant change is the addition of a new paragraph to the conclusion, which reads like an attempt to minimize the significance of the decision (and presumably decrease the likelihood of Supreme Court review): "As we have noted, there are valid reasons the county provides its judges with generous employment benefits beyond the employment benefits provided by the state. However, the defect we have found in the method by which those benefits have been provided is itself substantial and important. Under our constitutional scheme, judicial compensation is a matter of statewide concern and the Legislature must set policy with respect to all aspects of judicial compensation. As the cases we have discussed demonstrate, the Legislature's obligation to 'prescribe judicial compensation' requires that it set forth standards or safeguards which assure that fundamental policy is implemented. The fact that the Legislature provided counties a credit for judicial benefits when it enacted Lockyer-Isenberg or that it assured the counties that judicial benefits would not be decreased as a result of trial court funding does not meet these requirements. The obligation is not onerous, but does require that the Legislature consider the specific issue and, at a minimum, establish or reference identifiable standards."

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