AG's staff could be paid minimum wage if governor has his way

Legal News Line Aug. 2, 2008, 1:00am

Jerry Brown (D)

John Chiang (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif.(Legal Newsline)-With the California state Legislature in a stand-off with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over the budget, the attorney general's office remains on the sideline, waiting and watching - much like the rest of state.

Because the attorney general's office is a separate constitutional office, the immediate executive order signed Thursday by Schwarzenegger that cut most state workers' pay to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 applies to the department, according to deputy press secretary Abraham Arrendondo.

The governor's move to lay off more than 10,000 temporary workers meant a likelihood of longer lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles and perhaps empty lifeguard stands on the sunny beaches of Southern California, not empty desks where an attorney used to sit.

Schwarzenegger also banned overtime and froze hiring--provisions that don't apply to the AG's office.

For now, state Controller John Chiang, a Democrat, has refused to obey the Republican governor's order to cut pay.

"The order carries a lot of impact because of the minimum wage," Arrendondo said, "but we're just waiting to see how that turns out."

Earlier in the week, Chiang sent the governor a letter stating, "To the extent that the order attempts to govern the constitutional duties for which I was independently elected to perform and," Chiang wrote, "because it is based on faulty legal and factual premises, I will not comply with the order."

Though the controller and the governor have argued over the legality of the order, Attorney General Jerry Brown has no constitutional power to step in.

"It is up the controller," Arrendondo said. "He has said he will not lower pay. We'll see what happens."

Under the state constitution, Brown is the lawyer for both the governor and the controller.

"This is a conflict," Arrendondo said. "We can't represent both the governor and controller. If it actually comes to a legal standoff, which hasn't happened yet, we would have to say to both parties would have to go to outside counsel."

In the meantime, Brown has issued his own orders to curb spending.

"Were working to be a constructive partner," Arrendondo said. "We understand the state has a serious budget problem. And we want to work with the governor to resolve it however we can."

To that end, overtime is prohibited in the attorney general's office, contract employers who are not deemed to be "mission critical positions" will be laid off and no new former lawyers will be paid as consultants, according to Arrendondo, until the budget impasse is resolved.

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