Monday, July 20, 2009
McCoy: Judges Donating Wages to ‘Buy Back’ Furlough Days
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles W. “Tim” McCoy said Friday that the court is implementing a program this fiscal year allowing judges to contribute a portion of their salaries toward court operating costs.
“The judges right now are in the process of signing up to participate in a local contribution plan…which we hope can be used to maybe buy back one or more furlough days so that the public…will have access to the courts,” he confirmed.
McCoy emphasized that participation is voluntary, as the judges are constitutional officeholders who cannot be compelled to take less than their statutory salaries of nearly $179,000 annually.
“I don’t know yet how many of them have signed up,” McCoy said, “but I’ve gone around personally and talked to all of the judges about this and the support has been overwhelming.”
He clarified that the judges are still expected to work, maintaining, “We will be here no matter what, the judges are not getting days off.”
While McCoy proposed the idea to the executive committee in January and the program was approved in June, McCoy claimed that he was simply the first to articulate what “many, many judges had been thinking about for months.”
Each judge who elects to participate “needs to make his or her own decision on what they believe an appropriate amount would be,” McCoy adds, but the “recommended amount is the equivalent of one day per month’s pay,” which would be approximately $745 each. The contributions will be automatically deducted from the judges’ paychecks, after taxes, he said.
If each of the court’s 500-plus judicial officers participate, they would raise over $4.5 million annually. This revenue would be used “to pay whatever expenses involved in running the court rather than shutting it down,” including the wages of hourly employees who would otherwise not be paid on furlough days, McCoy explained.
Exact Dates Unknown
The exact dates the court may be able to avoid going dark have not yet been determined. “First we have to get the money, and I’m confident that we will, and we’ll make that decision later on,” McCoy said. “We have to try to pick the best furlough days when public most needs the services.”
McCoy announced the furlough plan, in which the court will go dark on the third Wednesday of each month for at least a year, on May 19. The plan is expected save the court $18 million.
In launching the monthly closures and contribution program, the Los Angeles Superior Court has moved ahead of its sister courts statewide. McCoy insisted that the court, which is facing an estimated budgetary shortfall of $143 million in the coming fiscal year, could not wait for a bill implementing similar measures statewide to pass.
Spokesman Philip Carrizosa of the Administrative Office of the Courts said Friday that a bill is pending before the Legislature to allow courts statewide the option of monthly furloughs and closures starting in September.
It would also allow the state’s judges to voluntarily take a furlough day without affecting their retirement eligibility and contribute that day’s wages to the state general fund, Carrizosa said.
Along with the Los Angeles Superior Court, the Mendocino Superior Court shut down the vast majority of its services and furloughed its employees last Wednesday. The San Francisco and Orange superior courts are scheduled to begin employee furloughs and court closures next month.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company