Wednesday, April 2, 2003
Justices Skeptical of Bid to Block State Employee Pay During Budget Impasses
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Several California Supreme Court justices responded skeptically yesterday as a lawyer for a taxpayer group urged them to bar the state from paying its employees when no budget has been adopted.
Justice Joyce L. Kennard sounded incredulous when Richard Fine, representing the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, argued that state employees would suffer no irreparable harm as a result of having their paychecks stop at the end of the fiscal year.
“No harm to people who have no money to pay for the necessities of life?” the justice asked.
“You are assuming they have the right to come to work,” Fine responded, saying that no such right exists when there is no budget. “Someone has to open the door of government to let the employee in,” he asserted, explaining that someone has to be the Legislature, through either regular or emergency appropriations.
Baxter Poses Question
That did not seem to satisfy Justice Marvin Baxter, who asked how the state would run prisons “if no correctional officers showed up for work” because there was no authority to pay them.
“The Legislature would pass emergency legislation so fast,” Fine responded, that there would be nothing to worry about.
“And you’d like to see that put to the test?” Chief Justice Ronald M. George asked Fine, drawing an unflinchingly affirmative response from the Los Angeles attorney, who noted that lawmakers had missed the June 15 deadline in 16 of the last 25 years.
Before the court in White v. Davis, S108099, is a ruling by this district’s Court of Appeal that the state controller can pay state employees minimum wage, but no more than that, during a budget impasse, absent a continuing or emergency appropriations act.
That ruling is wrong and impossible to implement, attorneys for the state and its employees argued.
“State employees should not be the pawns in a political chess game,” attorney Ann Giese, who represents the California State Employees Association, told the justices.
Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Rockwell, representing the Controller’s Office, said the state should be required to pay its employees during a budget impasse, and said the controller’s payroll system cannot accommodate reduced payments as contemplated by the Court of Appeal.
“The state controller needs to pay all employees their full wages,” she said.
The court yesterday also heard argument over whether Texas-born rock stars Edgar and Johnny Winter may sue a comic book publisher for the alleged improper use of their likenesses and personalities.
Appropriation of Images
Beverly Hills attorney Michael Bergman urged the justices to overturn the ruling allowing the Winters to sue DC Comics for appropriating their images as the models for the the half-worm, half-human Edgar and Johnny Autumn in the comics mini-series “Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such.”
Bergman said his client’s work was constitutionally protected because it “lends enormous creative expression” to the characteristics of the Winters. Turning the “rather good looking” Winters into the “monstrous-looking” semi-human Autumns, he said, is the type of “transformative” work that the First Amendment protects, rather than the “mere—imitation” that courts have held to be exploitive and unprotected.
But the attorney for the Winters, Vincent H. Chieffo of Santa Monica, argued that given the heavy use of the Winters’ names to advertise the work, it was they whose rights were being violated. “A celebrity, like anyone else, should not be forced to sell someone else’s—message if they don’t want to,” Chieffo told the court.
The case is Winter v. DC Comics, S108751.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company