The state of California owes about $40 million in back wages to judges after Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration lost its last appeal in a long-running lawsuit that centers on how it calculated their raises after the recession.
That decision came from an unusual group of judges. All six of the Supreme Court’s justices had recused themselves from the case, known as Mallano vs. Chiang, earlier this month. They had a financial stake in the outcome because they were in office when the state miscalculated judicial raises.
In their place, the court appointed seven judges who took office after 2017. Those judges on Friday declined to hear the state’s appeal of a June ruling to award back pay to about 3,000 current and former judges.
The ruling caps a lawsuit filed in 2014 by retired appeals court Justice Robert Mallano, who alleged that the state failed to give mandatory raises to judges between 2008 and 2013.
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“We are pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to the judges, justices and judicial retirement beneficiaries receiving the money to which they are entitled,” said Mallano’s attorney, William Casey of the Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom law firm.
California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal twice has directed the Brown administration to pay back wages to the judges. In 2017, the appeals court wrote that each judge would gain about $14,600 and $18,700 and it described the wages as “wrongfully withheld.”
The state’s decision to continue to fight the ruling carried a cost to taxpayers, too. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle issued the first ruling in favor of the judges in 2016 and ordered that the judges would be entitled to receive interest on their back wages at a rate of 10 percent each year.
H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Brown’s Finance Department, said the administration would re-asses what it owes the judges. “Now that the Supreme Court has made this decision final, we’ll move forward and implement the judgment,” he said.
By law, judges receive raises based on average wage increases that go to other state employees. If the average wage increase for all state workers is 3 percent, judges also would get a 3 percent raise.
In the contested period, most state workers saw their wages decrease because of furloughs, but some state workers did not have furloughs and benefited from raises during the recession. Mallano argued in his lawsuit that judges should have had timely raises in line with those wage increases.