Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Two Commissioners Say They Are Undecided About Buyout Offer
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioners Steff Padilla and Marshall Rieger on Friday both said that they were undecided about whether they would participate in the court’s voluntary separation program, which is providing an incentive for up to 30 bench officers to step down before the end of the year.
They declined to elaborate.
Since the program was announced Thursday by Presiding Judge Lee Edmon, Padilla and Rieger are the only two who have disclosed a possible interest in participating of the commissioners who could be reached for comment.
Commissioners Martin Gladstein, Jeffrey M. Harkavy and Alan Friedenthal have said they do not intend to leave their positions, and were joined Friday by John Chemeleski and Robert Harrison.
Chemeleski said he was “not so close to retirement where [this incentive] would push me into it,” while Harrison said “it doesn’t make sense for me to do it” since he has “only been a commissioner for five years” and is “well away from retirement.”
Harrison, however, suggested that it is a “great incentive to think about” for those who may be near retirement or interested in returning to private practice.
“I hope it actually works and as many people as can take advantage of it, do,” as “this will help us all out, and help the courts for sure,” Harrison said.
Edmon last week told the MetNews that the court stands to save $7,071,570 annually, starting in fiscal year 2012-13, if 30 commissioners opt to separate. If 30 court reporters participate in the incentive program for them, the court would save an additional $3.6 million.
Chemeleski remarked that “it’s a sad day for us when the court has to try to get rid of experienced judicial officers, and an even sadder day when we have to do it because we’re likely to have to shut down courtrooms.”
Harrison related that “there’s been talk of the possibility of closing 50 courtrooms in a year,” so the court’s incentive program “would be a way of avoiding the logistical problem of closing courtrooms when you have all of these bench officers.”
Edmon explained in a memorandum distributed to all judicial officers on Thursday that the court is facing an $85 million shortfall in the current budget year. In response to those cuts, she said the court laid off 329 employees in April, 2010, and has lost more than 550 employees over the past two years through layoff and attrition.
“Losing so many court staff has compromised our ability to provide the support necessary for the work of our 587 judicial officers,” which has required that the court undertake a “rebalancing of our judicial and staff complements,” Edmon wrote. The voluntary separation program, she said, “is a way to accelerate attrition toward this end.”
The program entails a one-time payment of six-months salary to as many as 30 commissioners who voluntarily separate from court service effective Dec. 30, a court spokesperson said.
Any of the court’s 109 full-time commissioners in good standing are eligible to participate, and must inform the court before the close of business Nov. 21 if they wish to participate, the spokesperson added.
The court is also entering into discussions with employee representatives for a similar program for court reporters with identical terms, Edmon said Thursday during a phone interview, although “a decision has not been made yet” as to whether referees will also be offered a separation incentive.
Harrison praised the “proactive” efforts of the court leadership to “try to minimize the impact of the financial mess we’re in,” and said he thought the program provides “a well thought-out way of trying to anticipate or avoid the potential layoffs that other courts are looking at.”
In San Francisco, for example, the court issued layoff notices to 175 employees, including 11 of its 12 commissioners, in July, but was able to recall some of those notices after receiving a $2.5 million emergency loan from the Judicial Council, and only released eight of its commissioners, along with 59 other employees at the end of September.
No New Commissioners
When the news of the San Francisco court layoffs came out, Edmon cautioned that similar measures were not being ruled out in Los Angeles. Last month court officials announced that it was preparing to lay off over 600 employees next October, and another 400 in April 2014.
Edmon also said on Thursday that she does not anticipate the court sending out ballots to elect any new commissioners for the foreseeable future.
The last commissioner election was in July, and resulted in then-Police Department Inspector General Nicole Bershon and Deputy District Attorney Eloise Phillips being selected to join the bench.
Phillips later declined to take the position, and Edmon said at the time that the prosecutor had been “concerned about the future of her position, and being the newest commissioner on the job.”
Edmon related that she had assured Phillips that “the last thing in the world we would want to do is lay off a commissioner,” but “we couldn’t give her any guarantees.”
If commissioner layoffs should occur, the 30 commissioners with the least seniority, in order, are: Susan Weiss; Friedenthal; David J. Cowan; John M. Murphy; Laura Hymowitz; Rocky Lee Crabb; Joel Wallenstein; Catherine Pratt; Cynthia Zuzga; Harrison; Stephen Marpet; Lori R. Behar; Benjamin Campos; Michael Garcia; Elizabeth Munisoglu; Dennis Carroll; Sharon L. Miller; Alan Rubin; Jacqueline Lewis; Steven Berman; Michael Pearce; Lloyd Loomis; Matthew C. St. George; Kenneth H. Taylor; William V. McTaggart Jr., Stephen M. Lowry; Michael Shultz; Nancy Pogue; Emma Castro; and Bershon.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company