Comments by Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News
Since Health Impact News started reporting on medical kidnappings taking place in the United States, we have briefly touched upon the topic of corrupt judges and the courts that allow this to happen. See:
Who is Trying to Silence Filmmaker and Judicial Watchdog Bill Windsor, Currently Held in County Jail?
I was privileged to have a conversation with one of the top American legal minds of our day and age, Dr. Richard I. Fine, who lost his career and was unjustly put in prison for 18 months as a political prisoner, because he was exposing judicial corruption in LA County. He was never even charged with a crime.
His story is not widely known, and it gives the public an insider perspective to the depth of the corruption in the American judiciary.
Health Impact News investigative reporter John P. Thomas interviewed Dr. Fine, and you can read that interview here:
As Dr. Fine explains in his latest article that he has asked Health Impact News to publish, this illegal practice of bribing judges to benefit Los Angeles County Supervisors is still happening.
The Dirty Truth Behind California’s $400 Million of “Supplemental Judicial Benefits”
by Dr. Richard Fine
Health Impact News
This is the underlying story of how judges taking illegal county and court payments and county supervisors making such payments to increase their own salaries corrupted the California judicial system.
California’s Judges Are the Highest Paid State Judges in the U.S.
California Superior Court judges can earn $186,000 per year in state salary plus state benefits before receiving “Supplemental Judicial Benefits” under the formula of Govt. Code 68203.
Superior Court [Trial Court] judges in Los Angeles County currently earn as high as $379,604 in total annual wages [$310, 268 –regular pay; $69,336- other pay] and $51,116 in total annual retirement and health cost in a regular pay range classification of $189,041 according to the Office of the State Controller Government Compensation in California 2015.
Why Does LA County Pay “Supplemental Judicial Benefits”?
In 1988, LA County Supervisors justified the payments stating they were necessary to “attract and retain qualified people to serve as judges on the LA Superior Court.”
This reason was reiterated 20 years later in Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles, 167 Cal.App.4th 630 (2008) Review Denied 12/23/2008 [Sturgeon I] in which the Court stated at page 638 in relevant part:
“here there can be little doubt the benefits that the county provides its judges enhance the recruitment and retention of judges who serve in Los Angeles. Indeed, in support of its motion for summary judgment, the county relied upon a 1988 report on judicial compensation that found judicial salaries were not by themselves sufficient incentive to retain or recruit judges in the Los Angeles area.”
On its face, such explanation doesn’t make sense. Paying a sitting judge a “supplemental benefit” will not retain him in office as he/she must face an election to retain his/her judicial office. It will not recruit a judge as the judge is already in office.
Nor does it appear that over time the “Supplemental Judicial Benefits” attracted more successful, experienced private lawyers to apply to be politically appointed for judgeships or to run for judgeships more than the usual government lawyers such as deputy district attorneys, deputy public defenders, county counsels and state employees.
Could the Real Answer for “Supplemental Judicial Benefits” Be the Salary of the LA County Supervisors Is Determined by the Salary of the Superior Court judges?
Article II, Section 4 of the LA County Charter states in relevant part:
“They [Board of Supervisors] shall each receive as compensation for their services a salary, payable monthly from the County Treasury, which shall be the same as that now or hereafter prescribed by law for a judge of the Superior Court in and for the County of Los Angeles, except that retirement benefits shall be those now or hereafter provided by law for officers and employees of the County of Los Angeles.” (Emphasis added.)
Article II, Section 4 demonstrates it is in the interest of each member of the LA Board of Supervisors to pay the Superior Judges more money so they can pay themselves more money.
LA County Paid Approximately $400 Million to Judges and Simultaneously Raised the Supervisors Salaries.
The result was LA County paid the approximate 430 LA County Superior Court judges approximately $400 million in “Supplemental Judicial Benefits” since the mid 1980s. This resulted in pay raises for the LA County Supervisors “claimed under law”, irrespective of the constitutionality or legality of the law.
LA County’s $400 Million Represented Most of the County Money Paid to 90% of California’s Approximate 1,600 Superior Court Judges.
A Report Prepared by the Administrative Office of the Courts, Judicial Council of California: Historical Analysis of Disparities in Judicial Benefits: Report to the Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, the Assembly Committee on Budget, and the Senate and Assembly Committees on Judiciary, (Dec. 15, 2009), Appendix D Supplemental Judicial Benefits in FY 2007-2008 showed approximately 90% of California’s approximate 1,600 Superior Court judges received supplemental benefits.
837 received supplemental benefits from 11 counties. 334 received supplemental benefits from counties and courts for a total of 1,129. 334 received supplemental benefits from only courts. 151 did not receive any supplemental benefits from 23 counties.
High cost of living counties which did not pay benefits were Marin and Santa Barbara counties.
Total statewide supplemental benefits paid were $33,602,542, with county supplemental benefits being $30,388,289 and court benefits being 3,214,253.
LA County [436 judges] was the highest county with $23,482,932. Orange County [112 judges] was second with $2,436,000. San Bernardino County [78 judges] was third with $1,280,175. Santa Clara County [79 judges] was fourth with $1,181,531. San Francisco County [51 judges] was fifth with $409,831. Riverside County [64 judges] was sixth with $401, 865.
San Diego Court [130 judges] was the highest court with $1,916,803.
In Contrast to LA County, Supervisor Salaries in Orange, Santa Clara and San Bernardino Counties Are Not Linked to Judge’s Salaries.
Orange County Supervisors are paid $145,000 per year with a $9,180 car allowance and the best health and retirement benefits in the county. Santa Clara County Supervisors are paid $149,364.63 per year, $4,800.00 in other pay and approximately $80,000.00 in benefits for a total of approximately $233,000.00. San Bernardino County Supervisors are paid the average of Orange, Riverside and San Diego County Supervisors excluding benefits including retirement.
“Supplemental Judicial Benefits” Were Judged Unconstitutional and Legislated to be Criminal.
Sturgeon I held the payments unconstitutional stating at page 635:
“Section 19, article VI of the California Constitution requires that the Legislature “prescribe compensation for judges of courts of record.” The duty to prescribe judicial compensation is not delegable. Thus the practice of the County of Los Angeles (the county) of providing Los Angeles County superior court judges with employment benefits, in addition to the compensation prescribed by the Legislature, is not permissible.” (Emphasis added.)
In response to Sturgeon I, the California Legislature gave the judges and the County supervisors retroactive immunity from criminal prosecution, civil liability and disciplinary action under SBX 11, Section 5, enacted 2/20/2009, effective 5/20/2009.
SBX 2 11 Section 5 stated:
“SEC. 5. Notwithstanding any other law, no governmental entity, or officer or employee of a governmental entity, shall incur any liability or be subject to prosecution or disciplinary action because of benefits provided to a judge under the official action of a governmental entity prior to the effective date of this act on the ground that those benefits were not authorized under law.” (Emphasis added.)
In addition, Section 2 of SBX 2 11 codified as Govt. Code 68220 (a) allowed the counties to keep paying the sitting judges the monies they paid them on July 1, 2008 “on the same terms and conditions as were in effect on that date.”
This provision was held to be constitutional as an interim revenue measure in Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles, 191 Cal.App.4th 344 (2011) [Sturgeon II] in which the Court affirmed Sturgeon I. The Court concluded that since judicial compensation is a state and not a county responsibility, it expected the Legislature to adopt a uniform statewide system of judicial compensation.
This did not occur. In Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles, 242 Cal.App.4th 1437 (2015) [Sturgeon III], the Court extended the payments to all judges sitting in a court in which judges received county payments on July 1, 2008 stating at 1450 in relevant part:
“The bottom line: Section 68220 subdivision (a) plainly requires any county paying its judges supplemental benefits as of July 1, 2008 to continue to pay its judges supplemental benefits, including all judges who took office after July 1, 2008—albeit subject to the right of the county in the first two sentences of subdivision (b) to terminate those benefits after specified notice. The county has no choice and no discretion to “fix” judicial compensation, which has thus been prescribed by the Legislature. The opt-out provisions of the first two sentences of subdivision (b) provide the only choice a county has in that situation, and even then there’s no fixing of compensation, just a choice to pay the prescribed amount or not to pay any supplemental compensation at all. The last sentence of subdivision (b) is unconstitutional surplusage.” (Emphasis added.)
The Court in Sturgeon III again called for the Legislature to solve the problem and referenced the Daily Kos article Fine, End California’s Judicial Corruption Now; Stop 2015–16 Illegal Budget Payments to Judges! (June 1, 2015) < dailykos.com/…; [as of Aug. 25, 2015].)
Supplemental Judicial Benefits Are Still Unlawful
LA County increased its payments from $46,436 per judge in 2007 [approximately 21% of their State salary of $172,000] as shown in Sturgeon I to $57,000.00 per judge [approximately 31.44% of their State salary] in 2013 and at present as shown in Sturgeon III.
The Orange County Budget for the FY 2008-2009- 081 Trial Costs did not show any payments of “supplemental judicial benefits” to Superior Court judges.
In contrast, Report Prepared by the Administrative Office of the Courts, Judicial Council of California: Historical Analysis of Disparities in Judicial Benefits: Report to the Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, the Assembly Committee on Budget, and the Senate and Assembly Committees on Judiciary, (Dec. 15, 2009), Appendix D Supplemental Judicial Benefits in FY 2007-2008, page12 showed Orange County $2,436,000 in Supplemental Judicial Benefits.
The Orange County Budget for the FY 2015-2016- 081 Trial Costs showed “$1,825,700 for Supplemental Judicial Benefits”. The Orange County Budget for the FY 2016-2017- 081 Trial Costs showed “$1,763,835 for Supplemental Judicial Benefits”
Santa Clara Judicial Benefits for FY 2016-2017 were not found in FY 2016-2017 Budget.
Riverside, San Bernardino and Yolo Counties removed Supplemental Judicial Benefits.
Conclusion: California Judicial System Corrupted by County Supervisors
For almost 30 years, the California judicial system has been corrupted by county supervisors who wanted to enhance their salaries by paying unlawful “Supplemental Judicial Benefits” to judges, and judges who accepted such payments from counties and courts knowing such were both unlawful and criminal as shown by Sturgeon I and SBX 2 11, Section 5.
$400 Million of taxpayer monies which could have been used for hospitals, infrastructure and benefitting society was wasted and is still being wasted on this unlawful conduct.
Citizens’ constitutional rights were violated in every case from family law to dependency to criminal to probate to eminent domain. In essence, every case in which the county was a party or had an interest in the outcome of the case was corrupted.
Now it is time to pressure the Legislature to repeal Govt. Code Section 68220 (a) and (b), pressure the county supervisors to end the “Supplemental Judicial Benefits”, and pressure the courts to end the extra payments to judges.
END THE CORRUPTION and TAKE BACK OUR JUDICIAL SYSTEM!
Richard I. Fine, Ph.D.; Strategic Consultant and Mediator; Chmn., Campaign for Judicial Integrity; Co Chmn., Judicial Reform Comm., DivorceCorp.
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