LOS ANGELES — Thanks to a ruling by the California Second District Court of Appeal, present and retired California judges could receive more than $36 million in back pay.
According to the decision, there is a chance now that $13 million in back pay to be provided to about 1,800 retired judges and an additional $23 million to be paid to an estimated 1,600 active judges. The ruling also allowed for attorney fees to be paid to the firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, who brought the class-action lawsuit in 2014
The case stems from a previous decision that granted back pay and the awarding of attorney fees.
In that case, attorneys from the California Attorney General's (AG) office who were representing Betty Yee, the California State Controller, had hoped to reverse that judgment.
"The statutory requirement that a significant benefit has been conferred on a large class of persons has been satisfied in this case," the ruling said. "As a result of the instant lawsuit, more than 3,000 judges, judicial retirees and their beneficiaries will receive salaries and benefits that were wrongfully withheld. Active judges were each entitled to payment of back salary and interest between $14,600 and $18,700."
The court found that the wording of the statute did not support the state’s position concerning the role of the controller, who it believed did not have the authority to pay salary increases. The state was citing California Government Code 68203.
"Nothing in Section 68203 constrains or prohibits the controller from fulfilling its ministerial duty to pay judicial salary increases,” the court's opinion said.
An email from the controller’s office said they were studying the opinion and will discuss the decision further with other defendants and the state AG's office.
Bringing the class-action suit was Robert Mallano, a retired judge from the Second District Court of Appeal. A class of judges was certified by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle. They were previously denied pay increases twice.
At the heart of the dispute is what role the statute gives the state controller in determining judicial salary increases.
The state argued that that 97 percent of the salaries of other state employees decreased during the same period due to mandatory furloughs. The state also said the statute’s mandate was based on the controller receiving pay letters, which were not sent during the years the judges did not receive any increases.
The appeals judges, though, said the statute did not require either factor.