Judicial Watch Files Taxpayer Suit against Los Angeles County to End Illegal “Supplemental Judicial Benefits”
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on April 1, 2014, it filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court for the State of California, County of Los Angeles on behalf of Los Angeles taxpayer Harold P. Sturgeon, asking that the court declare unlawful the continued payment of “supplemental judicial benefits” to Los Angeles County superior court judges (Harold P. Sturgeon v. The County of Los Angeles et al.(No. BC 541213)). The suit also asked that the court issue a permanent injunction prohibiting Los Angeles County from expending taxpayer funds for these “supplemental judicial benefits.”
Los Angeles County has paid “supplemental judicial benefits” and taxpayer-funded perks to judges in the county since before 1998.
The taxpayer lawsuit asks the court to prohibit Los Angeles County “from continuing to expend taxpayer funds or taxpayer-financed resources to pay for ‘supplemental judicial benefits.’” Specifically, the suit seeks to have the “double dipping” declared illegal and an injunction to stop further payments. This “double dipping” by the trial court judges had cost Los Angeles County taxpayers an estimated $24.6 million per year. According to the lawsuit:
In 2013, Defendants paid approximately $57,487 in ‘supplemental judicial benefits” to each of the approximately 429 judges of the Superior Court. This included approximately $33,970 in ‘cafeteria plan’ benefits, approximately $15,600 in retirement benefits, and a $7,917 ‘professional development allowance.’ … In 2013 alone, the cost of these benefits to County of Los Angeles taxpayers was at least approximately $24,661,923.
Judicial Watch began the fight against “supplemental judicial benefits” and taxpayer-funded perks to trial court judges in Los Angeles County in the spring of 2006, when it filed its first “citizen-taxpayer” lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Sturgeon seeking to have the payments declared unlawful. Following a trial court ruling upholding the payments, Judicial Watch appealed. In 2008, a California Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, declaring the benefits unconstitutional under Article VI, Section 19 of the California Constitution because they had not been “prescribed” by the Legislature. In 2009, Los Angeles County and the judges hired lobbyists to successfully push the California Legislature to pass a bill temporarily authorizing the county payment on an interim basis until a comprehensive response to the first Sturgeon lawsuit could be enacted. To date, the Legislature has failed to establish a comprehensive response.
“It should go without saying that judicial compensation should be paid in strict accordance with the law,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “For Los Angeles County to continue to pay judges $24.6 million a year – over and above the salaries and benefits they already receive from the State and without proper authorization from the Legislature – violates California’s constitution and is an abuse of the taxpayers’ trust. The fact that a second lawsuit had to be filed to enforce the law against abuse by judges is a scandal.”