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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/26/18

2018 Election: "Legislate to End of California's Judicial Crisis Now"

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California has a judicial crisis. Its judges received and presently are receiving unlawful "supplemental judicial benefits" from counties and courts which are parties to cases before them. Its judiciary suffers from a disparity in compensation in which Superior Court judges in Los Angeles County [LA County] receive approximately $57,000.00 per year more in compensation due to payments from LA County than Superior Court judges in other counties where county payments are less or zero. Its successive Governors and Legislatures refused to act to remove these problems."

Californians should no longer live under these conditions when a simple solution is immediately available.

The solution is to remove the conflict created by the disparate court and county "supplemental judicial payments" to state Superior Court judges and create a single state uniform judicial compensation system pursuant to Article VI, Section 19 of the California Constitution by amending SBX2 11 through repealing and replacing Section 2, codified as Government Code Section 68220 to raise the base judicial compensation by $57,000.00 [the highest county paid "supplemental benefit"] for all Superior Court judges, Court of Appeal justices and Supreme Court justices effective July 1, 2018, repealing Section 3, codified as Government Code Section 68221 and repealing Section 4, codified as Government Code Section 68222.

The judicial crisis affected and currently affects: (1) child custody, juvenile and family law cases; (2) class action cases; (3) conservator and elder cases; (4) constitutional cases; (5) contract cases; (6) criminal cases; (7) death, estate, and probate cases; (8) eminent domain cases; (9) environmental cases; (10) personal injury cases; (11) property cases; (12) regulation cases; (13) tax cases; (14) traffic cases; (15) trust cases; and (16) zoning cases, amongst others.

The crisis began in the mid-late 1980s when Los Angeles County commenced paying "supplemental judicial benefits" from county funds to state Superior Court judges sitting on the State of California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles in addition to the judges' state compensation. Although, LA County argued the payments would "attract and retain qualified people to serve as judges on LA Superior Court.", LA County did not disclose the salaries of the LA County Board of Supervisors were tied to the compensation of the state Superior Court judges for the County of Los Angeles under the LA County Charter Article II, Section 4.

The reality was by raising the compensation of the Los Angeles Superior Court judges through paying them "local judicial benefits", the LA County Board of Supervisors raised their own compensation by the same amount. Other counties and courts followed LA County. At present, the payments from the mid 1980s are approximately $500 million.

I initially exposed the payments as unlawful in appellate briefs and cases in 2001 -2002, with challenges of judges presiding over cases ensuing in cases from 2001 onwards. A full description of the payments, their effect, the judicial response to them and previous legislative attempts to remove them are found at

In 2008, these payments were held to violate California Constitution Article VI, Section 19 in Sturgeon v. LA County, 167 Cal.App.4th 630 (2008).

In 2009, in response to Sturgeon I at the judges urging, California enacted SBX 2 11, effective 5/21/2009.

Section 2 of SBX2 11, codified as Government Code Section 68220 formalized the disparity of judicial compensation among the judges of California's 58 counties into a state compensation problem. It gave the state Legislature's authorization to the counties to continue paying the "supplemental benefits" on the "same terms and conditions as were in effect on that date [July 1, 2008]", making such "state compensation".

Section 2 of SBX 2 11, codified as Government Code Section 68220 allowed the payments to continue to judges currently in office as of 7/1/2008, without immunity. The last term ended January, 2013.

Section 5 of SBX 2 11 gave the judges, who took the payments, and the governments and government employees, who gave the payments to the judges, retroactive immunity from California criminal prosecution, civil liability and disciplinary action.

California criminal codes violated by the payments were: (1) Penal Code Section 96.5 -- judge acting with knowledge of perverting and obstructing justice; (2) Penal Code Section 182 (a) (5) -- judges and the governments and government employee's conspiracy to pervert and obstruct justice, amongst others. Additionally, the judges were required to disqualify themselves from any case in which the county was a party, a witness or had an interest under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 170.1 (a) (6) (A) (3) and Code of Judicial Ethics, Canons 1, 2 A and 3E (1) and disclose the payments under Canon 3 E (2). Few, if any did. The payments also violated 18 U.S.C. Section 1346- the intangible right to honest services, as payments to a judge from a party are a bribe. There was no immunity from federal prosecution.

SBX2 11 resulted in a continuation of the unlawful payments under federal law, unlawful payments under state law if the payments differed from those of July 1, 2008 and a disparity in judicial compensation as now "prescribed" by the Legislature.

The 2009 California Judicial Council Report required by Section 6, of SBX2 11 showed approximately 90% of California's Superior Court then current sitting judges received these payments. An independent review of the official biographies of California's Court of Appeal and Supreme Court then, and current justices shows they received these payments when they were Superior Court judges.

After the enactment of Section 2, of SBX2 11, the California courts called upon the Legislature to resolve the crisis on two occasions: (1) in 2010 in Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles, 191 Cal.App.4th344 (2010) [Sturgeon II];and (2) in 2015 in Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles, 242 Cal.App.4th1437 (2015) [Sturgeon III]. The Legislature did not respond. The Campaign for Judicial Integrity proposed legislation in 2013; the Governor and Legislature did not respond.

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Richard I. Fine, Ph.D., Consul General Kingdom of Norway Retired (1995-2010), Principal, Richard I. Fine & Assoc.; Strategic Consultant; Mediator; Chmn. Campaign for Judicial Integrity; Co Chmn. Judicial Reform Comm. DivorceCorp; website: (more...)

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