California AG readies furlough appeal

Legal News Line Mar. 18, 2009, 12:00pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - On Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won a court battle over top state government leaders when a Sacramento judge ruled that those employed by constitutional officers are subject to the governor's executive order requiring unpaid furloughs one day each month.

Officials from the California Attorney General's office, one of the constitutional offices that sought to bypass the furlough order, said they are considering continued legal opposition to the order.

"We are still evaluating the opinion and discussing options for proceeding with our clients, but we anticipate that there will be an appeal," Scott Gerber, director of communications for the attorney general's office, told Legal Newsline on Tuesday.

Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette rejected the position offered by Controller John Chiang, on behalf of all the constitutional officers including the attorney general's office, that independently elected officers controlled the salaries of their own employees.

Schwarzenegger implemented the furlough plan during a lengthy budget battle with the state Legislature to shore up billions in lost revenue. The order is an across the board pay cut requiring all state workers to take one unpaid day off a month.

Chaing's spokeswoman Hallye Jordan said he would appeal, according to published reports.

Opposition to the order has come from state employee labor unions and the various constitutional officers who contend the governor has overstepped his authority.

But a legal expert told the Sacramento Bee that the latest court decision is a significant power grab for the governor.

"This puts an exclamation point on the function of the governor as the state's CEO," said Anthony Caso, a state constitutional law lecturer at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

Gerber would not comment on the specific impact to employees in the Department of Justice.

In addition to all employees under Chiang and Attorney General Jerry Brown, those who work for Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Superintendent of Public Schools Jack O'Connell, Treasurer Bill Lockyer, the Board of Equalization and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner are affected by the court's ruling.

All except Poizner are Democrats. Poizner did not join the opposition to the furloughs, but also had not furloughed his employees.

Schwarzenegger made his displeasure at the rebellion of the constitutional officers known after the budget revision passed through the Legislature by cutting 10 percent of the budget of the attorney general, controller, treasurer and Board of Equalization.

Garmendi, who was exceptionally critical over the budget deal, saw his budget whacked by more than half, down to just over $1 million.
At the time, the governor said the cuts were "to ensure that sufficient resources are reserved for key programs within the state."

Poizner did not see his budget cut.

The furlough program is expected to save the state more than $1 billion annually.

The Attorney General's office has often stated it has cooperated with the governor for months in reducing its budget and lowering expenses in addition to the revenue it produces from settlements. The office issued a statement in January to that effect.

"In addition to operating with the deep current-year cuts, the Department of Justice has been helping to solve the budget problems by generating many millions of dollars for the General Fund in the legal work we do," the statement said.

The Department of Justice made the state more than $15 million in settlements in 2007 and nearly $90 million in 2008 that went to the state's general fund.

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