Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Judicial Council Votes to Pursue Change in Retirement Benefits
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Judicial Council of California yesterday voted to pursue an improvement in pension benefits for judges in the lower-tier retirement system.
By unanimous voice vote, the council, meeting in San Francisco, voted to back 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. The California Judges Association is expected to join the council in lobbying for the proposal, state courts lobbyist Curtis L. Child said.
Prior to creation of JRS II, all California judges were part of the Judges’ Retirement System, which pays a defined benefit based on a member’s age at retirement and years of service. Because payments increased more rapidly than revenues, the system incurred large liabilities, leading lawmakers to create JRS II, which is required to operate under actuarial principles that prevent unfunded liabilities.
Under JRS II, which includes all judges appointed or elected subsequent to the 1994 general election, 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.
JRS II members who retire before becoming eligible for the defined benefit receive a lump sum or annuity based on how much they, and the state, contribute to the plan and the plan’s return on investment, similar to a 401(k) plan.
Child told the council that the average JRS II member became a judge at age 51, meaning that many jurists would have to work to age 70 or later to obtain a defined benefit. The lobbyist acknowledged, however, that the state’s current fiscal condition will make passage of the proposal difficult.
In another action that faces fiscal difficulties, the council voted to support creation of 50 new superior court judgeships around the state, include one for the Los Angeles Superior Court. The Legislature last created new judgeships last year, authorizing 50, but declining revenues led lawmakers to delay funding for those positions to June of next year and to shelve legislation would have authorized another 50 positions.
Child said that Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, would again “champion” the judgeships proposal. Corbett is an attorney and was reappointed last week as chair of the Judiciary Committee in the upper house.
The council’s legislative package also includes a request for authority to convert 16 more subordinate judicial officer positions to judgeships. Last year’s SB 159 permits a maximum of 162 such conversions—including 78 in Los Angeles County—over time, but limits the number in any fiscal year to 16 and requires legislative ratification of the number to be converted each year.
Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Richard Huffman explained that the council’s Executive Committee—to which the full council has delegated responsibility for identifying positions to be converted after the Legislature has fixed the number—acceded to a Los Angeles Superior Court request that only one of the three positions that became vacant last month be converted.
The committee anticipates converting two more commissioner vacancies to judgeships in Los Angeles Superior Court by early next year, Huffman said.
Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger has consistently sought to limit the number of conversions on the ground that commissioner vacancies can be filled more quickly than judgeships, reducing the strain on the court, which has more than a dozen judicial vacancies, even after 17 new judges were recently appointed.
The council yesterday also honored active and retired judges who volunteered to help Riverside Superior Court clear up more than 10 years of backlog, and Administrative Office of the Courts staff members who assisted them. Chief Justice Ronald M. George said that judges from 21 counties participated, and several of them addressed the council.
The program used existing facilities for criminal cases and three rooms in an unused elementary school building for civil cases. One of the participants, retired Antelope Municipal Court Judge Richard Spann, said of the massive undertaking:
“I doubt we’ll see anything like that, and I hope we won’t, again.”
In other action, the commission:
•Voted to support legislation implementing the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care.
•Approved 20 “best practices” for improving the administration of probate conservatorship cases and agreed to publish them in a guide for the California trial courts. The council also approved a progress report on the status of 85 recommendations that were made by the Probate Conservatorship Task Force in October 2007.
•Agreed to sponsor and resubmit several pieces of legislation that failed or were vetoed in the last session, including bills on electronic discovery, postjudgment fees in small claims proceedings, Court Interpreters Advisory Panel membership, American Sign Language interpreters, reimbursement for costs associated with providing minor’s counsel in dependency cases, and collection of unpaid bail amounts by the Franchise Tax Board.
•Approved various revisions and additions to the Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions.
•Approved revisions to the Uniform Bail and Penalty Schedules to become effective January 1, 2009. Vehicle Code section 40310 provides that the Judicial Council must annually adopt a uniform traffic penalty schedule for all nonparking Vehicle Code infractions.
•Approved distribution of $1.2 million—allocated in the state budget for the current fiscal year—in California Collaborative and Drug Project funds to local jurisdictions in the form of grants distributed through the Collaborative Justice Courts Project.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company