Friday, June 15, 2001
Research Attorneys Still Bargaining as Other Court Workers Set to Vote on Contracts Tomorrow
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court research attorneys bear no ill will toward their colleagues in other court positions who broke ranks and reached contract agreements with the court, a union leader said yesterday.
“Our bargaining unit has no anger toward the other ones,” research attorney Michael Boggs said. “Most of the other employees don’t understand our position.”
The union, which certified as a local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees late in 1999, joined with other AFSCME locals representing court employees in bargaining talks and rallied with them outside the courthouse Tuesday. But the research attorneys were left standing alone when accords were reached with the other locals.
A ratification vote is due tomorrow at downtown’s Central Courthouse on contracts that could bring judicial assistants, court clerks, courtroom assistants and family court mediators raises of up to 18 percent over three years.
Boggs said those locals had to act because talk in Sacramento about a drastically revised state budget—a response to the statewide electricity crisis—might mean there soon would be no money for raises of any kind.
Court spokeswoman Jerrianne Hayslett confirmed that talks were continuing with the research attorneys. She said she could not discuss the terms of contracts for the other units until members vote to ratify and the court’s executive committee does likewise.
The court’s 67 research attorneys are seeking pay increases as well, Boggs said, but their primary concern is to sweep aside a three-year probationary period and what some court lawyers call a perpetual temporary status.
The lawyers—all but three of whom work in civil courts—petitioned the Superior Court on Sept. 30, 1999 for representation by AFSCME. The research attorneys argued that union representation was the only way to get the court’s attention in pleas for benefits and better pay.
Certification came in December 1999.
Union officials have said lower pay and benefits stemmed in part from an outdated view that employment as a court research attorney was temporary, with most leaving after a year of employment.
The research lawyers’ role and tenure, but not their compensation, changed dramatically when fast-track courts were implemented in the late 1980s, union leaders said.
But while some judges have backed the call for research attorneys who are treated as permanent, full-time professional staff, others have argued that the appropriate model is the federal system, where lawyers “clerk” for two or three years before moving on to other positions.
Boggs said he has had temporary status for the last 11 years. The court offered to make research attorneys temps for a year, then for a second year, and finally probationary employees in their third year, Boggs said.
He said the highest paid research attorney gets annual pay of $53,500, a figure just over half of what Boggs said was the $100,000 earned by the top research attorneys in the Orange Superior Court.
The lawyers in the past have called for pay parity with county-employed attorneys who work for the county counsel, the district attorney, and the public defender.
Boggs expressed no regrets for the choice to unionize, but he said he and his colleagues had yet to reap the benefits.
“It has been an incredible amount of work and to a certain degree disheartening because of the lack of results, despite all the hard work,” he said.
The Superior Court has, on average, one research attorney for every two civil department judges. The lawyers review the documents filed in most civil cases, research the legal issues and make recommendations to the judges on rulings.
Former Municipal court research attorneys who came to the Superior Court with unification are not represented by AFSCME and are compensated “all over the board,” Boggs said, with some earning much more and some much less than continuing Superior Court lawyers.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company