Paying yourself supplemental compensation with public funds? You’re getting warm…

Posted on June 26, 2011

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Last week, many of us heard about a letter from CJP Counsel Victoria Hensley to Attorney General Kamala Harris. In this letter that we’ve only been able to read about is some curious wording that does concern every California citizen and should cause everyone to write Ms. Harris and it has to do with SBx211.

In the letter from Victoria Hensley to the Attorney General, then from the Attorney General to various interested parties, there appear to be two distinct questions. We’re going to separate the two questions for an independent analysis of each question because we too want to hear from the public, from other stakeholders and would like to know the opinion of both the CJA and the ACJ is on these issues as they are not as cut-and-dry as other media outlets are making them out to be. While they might be puzzled as to the nature of the questions, we feel confident that the nature of these questions strikes partially at the heart of our argument with the crown here at JCW and that argument with the crown concerns public corruption.

You might remember not too long ago, we took to task an article written by Janice M. Brickley in a post labeled Could it happen here? Having a significant basis to be critical and having this site chock full of the other ways this is happening here, we advised others to bring their waders when reading this story.

A little time passes and another article is artfully written about critics of the process, to which I would doubt if we weren’t the most vocal on that issue. Given we named names, we wouldn’t doubt for a second that the artfully written response was to assuage critics like us.

We weren’t moved until this past week when Victoria Hensley asked the Attorney General two questions regarding extra-judicial compensation and this begins our analysis.

Question # 1.

The Commission on Judicial Performance submitted two questions to Harris in late May, inquiring whether lawmakers would have the authority to pass a measure which “purports to preclude the [CJP] from disciplining California superior court judges for authorizing supplemental compensation to be paid to themselves from public funds, and/or receiving that supplemental compensation, on the ground that such benefits were or are not authorized by law.

Discussion: The key words here are in bold italics. Note that this is not the county authorizing supplemental compensation to superior court judges. This is the judges themselves authorizing supplemental compensation for themselves out of public funds. Now, how those public funds might be delivered is a whole other ball of wax not mentioned. Were they delivered as a “finders fee” from an unlicensed contractor to a judge? Were they delivered as a “signing bonus” from Deloitte? After all, payments passed through intermediaries and on to judges in this manner in any other profession could be construed as a bribe but might be construed as acceptable under SBx211 precluding judges from being prosecuted from taking a real bribe because it was paid for with public funds.

Question #2

The CJP asked Harris if the measure’s provisions “simply identify which judges are permitted as of the effective date of SBX2 11 to continue receiving supplemental compensation from the effective date forward, on the terms and conditions in effect on July 1, 2008,” or if they “retroactively authorize all or some portion of supplemental compensation provided by counties to judges, or to judges themselves, so long as it was being provided as of July 1, 2008.”

Discussion: It was known that there were numerous counties that did not provide this supplemental benefit to their counties judges. Certainly none as generous as those provided by Los Angeles County. This too is a good question because if an arrangement was altered after the July 1 2008 cutoff with either a commencement or increase in such payments, then we would believe that everyone should have a problem with this. We also generally believe that these payments should be phased out with higher judicial salaries statewide phased in based on a similar cost of living offsets of other state employees salaries.

We read reports about how everyone was puzzled, believing these matters to have been resolved. Obviously, the insight we have provided into these questions with a different perspective demonstrates that these questions are anything but resolved.