Pay cut, court closure have some judges in revolt

Group intends to form rival jurists association

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

2:00 a.m. August 27, 2009

California Chief Justice Ronald George. (2004 file photo / Union-Tribune)

California Chief Justice Ronald George. (2004 file photo / Union-Tribune)

San Diego Superior Court Judge Dan Goldstein. (2007 file photo / Union-Tribune)

San Diego Superior Court Judge Dan Goldstein. (2007 file photo / Union-Tribune)


$178,789: Superior Court judges' pay this year.

24: Percentage increase in judges' pay since 2004.

4.6: Percentage pay cut most judges are expected to take this year.


SOURCE: National Center for State Courts

By the time San Diego Superior Court shuts down for one day Sept. 16 in a money-saving move, most of the county's judges are expected to have agreed to take a voluntary pay cut.

But the 4.6 percent reduction that judges are being asked to take by state Chief Justice Ronald George is not coming without controversy.

Some judges across the state are upset that the plan to close courthouses one day a month for the next year, approved by the state Judicial Council in June, came with little consultation among judges.

Chafing at that top-down decision-making, a group of judges led by San Diego Superior Court Judge Dan Goldstein is planning to form a new association that would lobby lawmakers on issues affecting the judiciary.

Such a group would be a direct challenge to the 80-year-old California Judges Association, which has been the official voice for the trial courts and appellate courts in the state.

The pending pay cut that most of the bench is expected to take will not affect the pay of another group of public employees — the county Board of Supervisors.

Under an ordinance first passed in 1977, supervisors are paid 80 percent of what judges make. So when the Legislature increases judicial pay — and it has been doing so steadily over the past five years — supervisors' compensation automatically increases.

Yet with most local judges lowering their pay voluntarily, supervisors said this week that they were not prepared to follow suit.

They gave a variety of reasons, and some pointed out that the cut judges are taking is voluntary and that perhaps not all judges will take it.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob said that if the Legislature lowered the pay of judges, the supervisors' pay would also dip, and that she would not voluntarily reduce her salary.

Supervisor Greg Cox noted that the county, unlike the court system, has not asked workers to take pay cuts or furloughs. If that were to happen, he said he would consider reducing his pay, too.

A spokesman for Supervisor Ron Roberts, who is facing a re-election fight, said discussing pay cuts was too hypothetical because the judges have yet to formally reduce their salaries. Judges have until Sept. 5 to notify the state whether they will take the cut.

Supervisor Bill Horn also said he was not in favor of a voluntary pay cut, as did a spokesman for Supervisor Pam Slater-Price.

Salaries for judges have increased 24 percent since 2004, according to figures from the National Center for State Courts, which tracks judicial pay. In 2004, trial court judges were paid $143,838. The salary for this year is $178,789. Judges also get benefits, such as car allowances and health care, that vary from county to county.

Judges have the option of simply taking the cut or giving a donation to the courts that can be as much or as little as they want. Court employees are already slated to take a pay cut of 4.6 percent.

Goldstein said the issue for many judges locally and around the state is not the salary reduction. “Most judges in San Diego are going to want to contribute to the courts and stand with the staffs and take a pay cut,” he said.

What rankles Goldstein and other judges is that the pay cut and the monthly courthouse closures were presented as a done deal and that other alternatives for saving money are not being considered.

“We are shutting an entire branch of the government down,” he said. “They are not shutting down the executive branch for a day, and the legislative branch isn't doing it either.”

The court system is sitting on a $500 million fund to build courthouses, and hundreds of millions have been allocated for improving court technology, Goldstein said. Moreover, he said, the Administrative Office of the Courts — the statewide court-staffing agency, based in San Francisco — has added hundreds of employees since 2004. Making cuts there could have been an alternative to closing courts, he said.

“We believe it is more important to keep the courts open,” Goldstein said. “There were better mechanisms to use.”

Goldstein said he has heard from hundreds of judges across the state who were displeased by how the judges association did not push back more against the cutbacks. He said those judges want more transparency in how the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Judicial Council make decisions and ensure ongoing access to the courts.

“We are going to form an organization that adheres to those principles,” Goldstein said.

The pay cut has to be voluntary, because the state constitution protects judges from involuntary salary reductions. All judges are being asked to take the hit, including those at the appellate level.

Justice Judith McConnell, the presiding justice for the 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego, said she is taking the pay cut and expects most of the judges on the bench to take a cut or make a donation.


Greg Moran: (619) 542-4586;

Find this article at: