Friday, December 19, 2008
Judge Joe Hilberman to Leave Bench Next Month
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joe W. Hilberman will leave the court Jan. 31 after seven years of service, the jurist said yesterday.
Hilberman, 60, said he intends to leave the bench for private judging. His decision, he told the MetNews, is the result of a “perfect storm” consisting of a Court of Appeal decision that may result in the loss of more than $40,000 per year in county benefits, the fact that he is a member of the second-tier judicial retirement system and would have to work to age 70 to retire with defined benefits, and personal considerations.
Hilberman’s wife, who teaches health care management at UCLA, hopes to retire within the next few years, the judge explained, and the family has, like many others, been “hammered by declines of stock holdings” that are paying the college tuition of Hilberman’s daughter, a junior at USC.
“I really love this job,” the judge lamented. While he has told friends and colleagues of his decision, he said, he has been procrastinating making it official.
“My letter to [Presiding Judge-elect] Tim McCoy been sitting on my computer for two weeks, but I haven’t pushed the [print] button,” he explained.
He said he has reached an agreement with a private dispute resolution firm, but will not disclose which one until he leaves office. He commented that he expects to do mediation and arbitration, as well as discovery dispute resolution, in the fields of professional liability and business law—in which he practiced prior to becoming a judge—as well as in family law and general litigation, which he has handled on the bench.
Hilberman was named to the court by then-Gov. Gray Davis in December 2001 after 27 years in litigation, the last five as a partner in Fonda, Hilberman & Fraser.
His practice focused on personal liability claims and employment disputes on behalf of insurance carriers, self-insured businesses, universities and healthcare providers. He served on the Board of Trustees of the Santa Monica Bar Association and chaired its Civil Litigation Committee.
Hilberman received his undergraduate degree and law degrees from UCLA.
He was recently named Trial Jurist of the Year by the local chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, an honor made “bittersweet” by the fact he is soon departing the bench, he said.
Hilberman becomes the second judge to state publicly that he is leaving the bench at least partially in response to the Court of Appeal decision in Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles. A Fourth District panel ruled that the benefits program, including “MegaFlex” benefits valued at 19 percent of a judge’s salary, a “professional development allowance,” and a 401(k) match of up to four percent of the judge’s salary, constitutes “compensation” within the meaning of Art. VI, Sec. 19 of the California Constitution and thus must be authorized by the Legislature.
Judge William Pounders said last month that he will retire when the benefits terminate—the county is seeking Supreme Court review of the ruling—or at the end of next year, whichever comes first.
In addition, Hilberman, like all judges who joined the court after November 1994, is a member of JRS II. Under that plan, a member must retire at age 65 or older with 20 years of service, or at age 70 with 10 years of service, to receive the defined benefit, which is 75 percent of salary for those with 20 years of service and proportionately less for those with less than 20 years.
The Judicial Council and the California Judges Association are pursuing legislation that would allow judges in JRS II to receive a defined benefit if they retire at age 63 or older with at least 10 years of service. But the state’s revenue problems make it unlikely the change will become law anytime soon.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company