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California Briefing / L.A. COUNTY

Court finds some judges' perks illegal

October 15, 2008|Jean Merl

A California Court of Appeal has ruled that the county's program of providing supplemental benefits to its Superior Court judges violates the state Constitution.

Because the Constitution requires the Legislature to decide judicial compensation, "the practice of the county of Los Angeles providing . . . Superior Court judges with employment benefits, in addition to the compensation prescribed by the Legislature, is not permissible," Associate Justice Patricia Benke wrote in her 37-page opinion.

Since 1998, a year after the Legislature enacted a law giving it sole jurisdiction in determining judges' compensation, the county has continued to provide at least $120 million in taxpayer-funded perks, according to Judicial Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based public watchdog group.

Judicial Watch brought a suit against the county, which it said paid judges about $21 million a year in supplemental benefits, some of which could be taken in the form of taxable income.

The appellate court's ruling, which reversed a lower court ruling in favor of the county, "represents a tremendous victory [for] the taxpayers and citizens of California," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in announcing the ruling.

The organization said it plans to make the decision and related documents available at www.judicialwatch.org.

-- Jean Merl

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