Taxpayer Suit to Stop Double-Dipping Judges

Taxpayer Suit to Stop Double-Dipping Judges

It should go without saying that judicial compensation should be paid in strict accordance with the law. This is common sense, yes? The men and women given the privilege of adjudicating the law should be subject to the law.

But that’s not what’s happening in Los Angeles County where double-dipping judges are receiving perks and benefits in violation of the law and hurting taxpayers in the process. This is a battle we’ve been fighting since 2006. We’ve kept this on the front burner because it represents such an egregious abuse, one that must be stopped.

And this is a message we sent yet again on April 1, 2014, when we filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court for the State of California, County of Los Angeles, on behalf of Los Angeles taxpayer Harold P. Sturgeon, asking that the court declare unlawful the continued payment of “supplemental judicial benefits” to Los Angeles County superior court judges. The suit also asked that the court issue a permanent injunction prohibiting Los Angeles County from expending taxpayer funds for these “supplemental judicial benefits.”

Los Angeles County has paid “supplemental judicial benefits” and taxpayer-funded perks to judges in the county since before 1998.

Let’s pause for a moment and answer the obvious question: What exactly is a “supplemental judicial benefit”? Simply put, these benefits are compensation above and beyond the compensation provided by the California state government.

In fact, according to the California State Constitution, the state is responsible for compensating Los Angeles County judges, including both salary and benefits. But above and beyond the compensation packages provided by the state, per the state Constitution, Los Angeles County has been unlawfully providing duplicative benefits to these judges at taxpayer expense. They are getting Perks like “professional development allowances” and “cafeteria plans.”

And what is the cost of all of these perks? This will shock you. The “double-dipping” by the trial court judges cost Los Angeles County taxpayers an estimated $24.6 million per year in 2013 alone. According to the lawsuit:

In 2013, Defendants paid approximately $57,487 in “supplemental judicial benefits” to each of the approximately 429 judges of the Superior Court. This included approximately $33,970 in ‘cafeteria plan’ benefits, approximately $15,600 in retirement benefits, and a $7,917 ‘professional development allowance.’ … In 2013 alone, the cost of these benefits to County of Los Angeles taxpayers was at least approximately $24,661,923.

That is, in effect, a $57,487-per-judge, taxpayer-funded bonus above what these judges are already receiving for compensation from the State of California. As you might imagine, other judges in the state who don’t receive these illicit benefits resent this abuse in Los Angeles.

Our taxpayer lawsuit asks the court to prohibit Los Angeles County “from continuing to expend taxpayer funds or taxpayer-financed resources to pay for these ‘supplemental judicial benefits.'” Specifically, the suit seeks to have the “double-dipping” declared illegal and an injunction to stop further payments.

Judicial Watch began the fight against “supplemental judicial benefits” and taxpayer-funded perks to trial court judges in Los Angeles County in the spring of 2006, when we filed our first “citizen-taxpayer” lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Sturgeon seeking to have the payments declared unlawful. Following a trial court ruling upholding the payments, Judicial Watch appealed.

In 2008, a California Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, declaring the benefits unconstitutional under Article VI, Section 19 of the California Constitution because they had not been “prescribed” by the Legislature.

In 2009, Los Angeles County and the judges hired lobbyists to successfully push the California Legislature to pass a bill temporarily authorizing the county payment on an interim basis until a comprehensive response to the first Sturgeon lawsuit could be enacted. To date, the Legislature has failed to establish a comprehensive response. That is why we are in court yet again.

Here’s our bottom line: For Los Angeles County to continue to pay judges $24.6 million a year–over and above the salaries and benefits they already receive from the State of California and without proper authorization from the Legislature–violates California’s constitution and is an abuse of the taxpayers’ trust. The fact that a second lawsuit had to be filed to enforce the law against abuse by judges is a scandal.