Judges' perks could fall by the wayside

Chris Rizo Dec. 25, 2008, 3:12pm

California Supreme Court justices

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-The California Supreme Court has declined to hear a case involving perks given to superior court judges by county governments.

The high court's refusal Tuesday to hear the case allows a lower court ruling to stand that could void Los Angeles County's long-running practice of supplementing judges' $178,000 salaries and benefits with additional perks that amounted to almost $50,000 a year.

The case was brought by Los Angeles County resident Harold Sturgeon, who argued the perks are unlawful. San Diego's 4th District Court of Appeal in October agreed, ruling that the special compensation ran afoul of a state constitutional requirement that the state Legislature prescribe compensation for judges.

In Los Angeles County, judges are given, among other perks, additional contributions to their retirement accounts as well as a $592-a-month "professional allowance" for professional development and travel allowances that judges can take in cash.

"The practice of the County of Los Angeles of providing Los Angeles County superior court judges with employment benefits, in addition to the compensation prescribed by the Legislature, is not permissible," the appeals court ruled. "Accordingly, we must reverse an order granting summary judgment in favor of the county in an action brought by a taxpayer who challenged the validity of the benefits the county provides to its superior court judges."

Proponents of the perks say they help attract top-notch legal minds to serve on the bench despite the relatively low salary compared to what would-be jurists could earn in the private sector.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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