California is Refusing to pay $40 million in back wages that it owes to its Judges
According to the Sacramento Bee, California state attorneys are going to fight court rulings directing the state to pay about $40 million in back wages and benefits to about 3,000 current and former judges who claim they were shortchanged during the recession. The state must pay 10 percent annual interest on the back wages and benefits, which means the money potentially owed is climbing by $4 million a year as the case drags on. It’s been four years since retired appeals court Justice Robert Mallano filed the lawsuit alleging the owed back pay. Continuing to fight it carries an expensive risk, but if the state wins the case it could save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. According to a court transcript, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said to a deputy attorney general at the hearing,
Do you recognize that there’s 10 percent interest as the judgment that’s been affirmed on appeal? So you’re willing to risk 10 percent interest? If the judgment is $40 million, that’s $4 million per year at 10 percent interest that the state may become liable. You’re willing to expose the state and taxpayers to that interest?
Apparently, the case centers on Mallano’s complaint that the state failed to give mandatory raises to judges during the recession between 2008 and 2013. By law, judges receive raises based on average wage increases that go to other state employees. During that period, most state workers had their wages decreased because of furloughs, but some state workers did not have furloughs and got raises during the recession. Because of this, Mallano argued in his lawsuit that judges should have had timely raises in line with those wage increases.
The state lost the case against Mallano in Los Angeles in 2016 and again in April 2017 at an appeals court. The state did not appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, but state attorneys have refused to offer an alternate calculation for the back pay. State attorneys contend that the state does not owe back wages. However, the state has taken steps to comply with other parts of the rulings such as an order that it has to pay about $700,000 in legal fees. We will have to wait and see how this case will be resolved.