End Judicial Corruption! Change 2017-2018 State and County Budgets!
How often do we see both the Courts and citizens urging the Legislature to change the law?
In 2010, after the SBX 211 was held to be an interim measure to address the unconstitutionality of the “local judicial benefits” paid by counties and courts to Superior Court judges, the Court urged the Legislature to revisit the issue of judicial compensation.
In 2015, the Court again did the same thing.
Long before, and during the same time, citizens advocated for the removal of “local judicial benefits” as a major cause of judicial corruption.
The Legislature, county supervisors and local courts were non responsive other than Riverside, San Bernardino and Yolo Counties removing their “local judicial benefits”.
This 2017-2018 budget year the convergence of Court and citizens is again occurring.
This time judicial corruption can end.
I. 2017-2018 Proposed Budgets do not Address Judicial Corruption
The 2017-2018 proposed California and County Budgets are released and ready to be approved in June.
None of them address the problem of judicial corruption caused by illegal “local judicial benefits” paid to approximately 90% of Superior Court judges by counties and Superior Courts in addition to the judges state compensation.
The largest counties, by judge count, are Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Santa Clara, Sacramento and San Francisco. See http://www.campaignforjudicialintegrity.org for all counties and courts.
Since May 20, 2009, these illegal “local judicial benefits” payments were compensation from counties or courts the Superior Court judges received in addition to their state compensation which was greater than that received under the same terms and conditions as received on July 1, 2008.
II. Illegal Payments Over $400 Million
For the proposed fiscal year 2017-2018, these illegal “local judicial benefits” payments may be in excess of $30 million. Based upon historical data, the largest payments will be in Los Angeles County with an estimate of approximately $25 million, followed by Orange County with an estimate of approximately $3 million.
Since the approximate origin of the illegal “local judicial benefits” payments in approximately 1985 in Los Angeles County, over $400 million of illegal “local judicial benefits” payments were made from counties to the Superior Court judges with most of the money being paid by Los Angeles County.
III. Courts Rule Payments Illegal and Urge Legislature to Change Law
In 2008, the case of Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles 167 Cal.App.4th 630, 635, 656-657 (2008) Review Denied 12/23/2008 [Sturgeon I] held the “local judicial benefits” payments violated Article VI, Section 19 of the California Constitution. Such mandated only the Legislature could prescribe the compensation of the judges.
In response to Sturgeon I, at the behest of the judges, the Legislature enacted and the Governor signed SBX 2 11 on February 20, 2009, effective May 20, 2009.
Section 2 of SBX 2 11 added Section 68220 to the California Govt. Code requiring all counties continue to provide sitting judges with whatever benefits the counties had provided as of July 1, 2008.
Section 5 of SBX 2 11 gave the judges, who took the payments, and the governments and government employees, who gave the payments to the judges, retroactive immunity from California criminal prosecution, civil liability and disciplinary action.
In 2010, the case of Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles, 191 Cal.Ap.4th 344, (2010) Review Denied 3/16/2011 [Sturgeon II] affirmed the “local judicial benefits” payments violated California Constitution, Article VI, Section 19 and held Section 2 of SBX 2 11 [Section 68220 to the California Govt. Code] was an interim response to the problem (191 Cal.App.4th at 354-356). The Court urged the Legislature to address the problem.
The Legislature did nothing.
In 2015, the case of Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles 242 Cal.App.4th 1437, 1450 (2015) [Sturgeon III] held the counties were obliged to pay all judges the supplemental benefits even those judges who took office after July 1, 2008, but “there’s no fixing of compensation, just a choice to pay the prescribed amount or not to pay any supplemental compensation at all”.
The Court again asked the Legislature to revisit the trial court compensation problem stating at 242 Cal.App.4th at 1450:
“In the spirit of Sturgeon II, we offer these further comments: Even though it is not required, the Legislature may want to revisit the trial court compensation problem. Groups as diverse as Judicial Watch11and the Daily Kos12 continue to inveigh against county payments to trial judges.”
12. See Fine, End California’s Judicial Corruption Now; Stop 2015–16 Illegal Budget Payments to Judges! (June 1, 2015) < http://dailykos.com/story/2015/06/02/1389761/-End-California-s-Judicial-Corruption> [as of Aug. 25, 2015].)” (Emphasis added.)
In the 2016-2017 Budget, the Legislature did nothing, leaving Govt. Code Section 68220 unchanged. Nor did any county stop its illegal “local judicial benefits” payments greater than those paid on July 1, 2008.
IV. “Local Judicial Benefits”Payments Greater than July1, 2008 Violate State and Federal Laws
California criminal codes violated were: (1) Penal Code Section 96.5 – judge acting with knowledge of perverting and obstructing justice; (2) Penal Code Section 182 (a) (5) – judges and the governments and government employees conspiracy to pervert and obstruct justice, amongst others.
Additionally, the judges were required to disqualify themselves from any case in which the county was a party, a witness or had an interest under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 170.1 (a) (6) (A) (3) and Code of Judicial Ethics, Canons 1, 2 A and 3E (1) and disclose the payments under Canon 3 E (2). Few, if any did.
The “local judicial benefits” payments also violated 18 U.S.C. Section 1346- the intangible right to honest services, as payments to a judge from a party are a bribe. There was no immunity from federal prosecution.
V. The Judicial Corruption Affects every Person
The “local judicial benefits” payments corrupted criminal cases prosecuted by a county district attorney, family law cases where the county participated, eminent domain cases, traffic cases and any case involving or affecting the county.
VI. We Can End Judicial Corruption Now
We can end judicial corruption now by demanding the Legislature repeal Govt. Code Section 68220 and county supervisors and local courts remove the illegal “local judicial benefits”payments from the 2017-2018 budgets!
Richard I. Fine, Ph.D., Strategic Consultant, Mediator, Chmn., Campaign for Judicial Integrity, Co Chmn., Judicial Reform Comm. DivorceCorp
Richard Fine is a former US Attorney with the Department of Justice from southern California.