Richard-Fine-Campaign-For-Judicial-Integrity

by John P. Thomas
Health Impact News

Has corruption in the judicial system become such a boring topic that even politicians can safely ignore it? I am old enough to remember a time when people were genuinely outraged when they heard about the corruption of government officials. Careers would be ended, people would be expelled from government agencies in disgrace, and shame would haunt the fallen individuals for many years if not for the rest of their lives.

But apparently, this is not the way things are now in California. Lawmakers seem indifferent to the system of corruption that has become a way of life in the state’s judicial system.

In January 2016 I interviewed Dr. Richard Fine, Ph.D.; JD, to learn about his efforts to expose the system of judicial bribery in California. In that article, I explained how Dr. Fine was caught up in a brutal battle of retaliation created against him by California judges, because he publicized unlawful payments given to those judges.

The payments were given by county governments to superior court judges who were employees of the State of California and receiving a full salary for their work. He was unlawfully jailed for 18 months under coercive confinement and had his law license revoked for speaking out against this corruption. Please read the previous article for the full details:

American Judicial System for Sale: Bribes and Corruption now the Norm

Unlawful Payments to Judges are Called Bribes

The unlawful system of “supplemental compensation” paid to California superior court judges began in the 1980s. Even though these payments have been declared illegal by the courts, county governments continue to make these payments to judges today.

In California, judges are paid a salary by the state government to provide impartial services. However, in approximately 30 of the 58 counties, the judges receive supplemental benefits in the form of annual payments from county government.

We are not talking about small amounts of money. In Los Angeles County, for example, annual payments to judges are in excess of $57,000 per year. [1] 90% of judges in California receive these supplemental payments. [2]

The official position taken by Los Angeles County is that these payments are part of an incentive program to attract highly qualified judges and to retain them in their positions. [3] The problem is that judges are elected and are not attracted or retained by these payments. Instead, the payments function as bribes for favorable court decisions benefiting the county governments that pay the money.

The Rotten Fruit of Supplemental Payments to Judges: LA County Always Wins in Court

The rotten fruit of this so called incentive program can be easily weighed in Los Angeles County (LA). All we need to do is count the number of court decisions that favor the county. Judges almost always rule in favor of the county.

Dr. Fine provides this analysis. He states:

Evidence of the judges’ being prejudiced in favor of LA County appeared in the LA County Counsel Annual Litigation Reports for the years 2005-10, which showed in these years, LA Superior Court judges dismissed approximately 400-450 of the 650-850 cases filed against LA County each year and only decided 2-3 cases against LA County during the entire time. This did not include the number of criminal or divorce or other family law cases decided by the LA Superior Court judges. [4]

How could it be that Los Angeles County was almost always victorious and those with complaints against the county were almost always without merit? Could it be bribery and corruption? Could it be the approximately 50-thousand dollar annual payments received by each judge that caused them to favor the county in their decision making?

What is Bribery?

The definition of bribery is simple and clear. Definition:

Bribery is the offer or acceptance of anything of value in exchange for influence on a government/public official or employee. Bribes can take the form of gifts or payments of money in exchange for favorable treatment, such as awards of government contracts. Other forms of bribes may include property, various goods, privileges, services and favors.

Bribes are always intended to influence or alter the action of various individuals and go hand in hand with both political and public corruption. No written agreement is necessary to prove the crime of bribery, but a prosecutor generally must show corrupt intent. In most situations, both the person offering the bribe and the person accepting can be charged with bribery. [5]

Simple logic says that if a person such as a judge receives a large amount of money from an entity such as a county government, and does not disclose the payments or recuse himself/herself from cases involving the county, and then consistently favors that county in court proceedings brought before that judge, then we could call this bribery. [2]

The Court Ruled — Supplemental Payments to Judges were Illegal

In a 2009 lawsuit, commonly known as Sturgeon versus County of Los Angeles, the court found that these payments were illegal, but the matter did not end there.

The California Legislature Responds to the Court: Lets Judges Off the Hook

In response to the decision in Sturgeon, the California legislature immediately passed a law saying that the judges who received payments from the counties and the county officials who gave the payments would receive retroactive immunity from California criminal prosecution, civil liability, and disciplinary action.

The law the legislators enacted, known as SBX 2 11, also stipulated that the payments from the counties could continue and should be kept at the current 2008 level for the remainder of the terms of all judges through January 2013.

The counties also had the option of stopping all payments. They did not have the option of increasing or decreasing the payments. Changing payment levels was retained as an exclusive activity of the legislature.

Counties Continued to Increase the Supplemental Payments to Judges

When the terms of all judges expired in January of 2013, the counties did not discontinue the payments and they did not keep them at 2008 levels. Instead, they continued to increase the payments.

The payments are once again illegal, because the counties overstepped their authority by increasing payments given to judges after 2009. Only the California legislature has the exclusive authority to adjust payments to its judges. When the legislature passed the 2009 law, they in effect set a new compensation level for judges that was to remain in effect until January 2013 and was not to be modified by the counties.

Back in Court Again for a Third Time

Once again, attorneys from Judicial Watch, Inc. brought the matter back to court in 2015. In this case known as Sturgeon III, the three judge appellate court once again ruled in favor of Sturgeon, saying that the counties were violating state law. The appellate judges stated:

The bottom line: Section 68220 subdivision (a) plainly requires any county paying its judges supplemental benefits as of July 1, 2008 to continue to pay its judges supplemental benefits, including all judges who took office after July 1, 2008 – albeit subject to the right of the county in the first two sentences of subdivision (b) to terminate those benefits after specified notice. The county has no choice and no discretion to “fix” judicial compensation, which has thus been prescribed by the Legislature. The opt-out provisions of the first two sentences of subdivision (b) provide the only choice a county has in that situation, and even then there’s no fixing of compensation, just a choice to pay the prescribed amount or not to pay any supplemental compensation at all. [6]

The appellate judges concluded their findings in Sturgeon III as follows:

We hold that section 68220, properly construed – that is, recognizing that the last sentence of subdivision (b) must be discarded as unconstitutional surplusage – allows Los Angeles County to continue paying new judges who took office after July 1, 2008, supplemental benefits on the same terms and conditions as it was paying judges in office on July 1, 2008.

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 Watch and the Daily Kos [See article by Richard Fine, “End California’s Judicial Corruption Now; Stop 2015-16 Illegal Budget Payments to Judges!”] continue to inveigh against county payments to trial judges. The 2009 Judicial Council Report which section 6 of X2 11 authorized noted wide disparities in judicial compensation around the state. Judges of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County now receive supplemental benefits worth about $57,000. By contrast, judges in the Superior Courts of Alpine, Inyo, and San Benito Counties receive no supplemental benefits at all. These are among the disparities in compensation around the state the Legislature might care to consider. Or Sturgeon’s counsel in this and all previous cases. [7]

The California Legislature Still has not Responded

So, here we are in the summer of 2016. As far as we know, the California State Legislature has not responded to the decision of the appellate court in Sturgeon III issued on December 14, 2015. This leaves county governments and judges in a vulnerable situation whether they know it or not. The counties have stepped into illegal activity by increasing supplemental compensation to judges and judges have stepped into illegal territory by accepting the increased compensation. It is the failure of the California Legislature to deal with the statewide compensation problem for its judges that has created this vulnerability.

Given the current situation, there are basically two options the counties and judges have for stepping back under the legal guidelines of SBX 2 11.

The first option is for the counties to revert back to the 2008 compensation level for the supplemental payments given to judges, and continue that level of funding into the future. Of course this would require judges to repay the excess money they received since 2009. The repayment of excess taxpayer dollars would, of course, be unpopular with judges.

The second option is for counties to simply eliminate the entire supplemental payment program, and simply let judges receive the compensation prescribed for them by the State Legislature. Of course, this would be even more unpopular among judges, because many would lose as much as $57,000 per year in income.

If the supplemental payments were discontinued, then the judges could petition the legislature to address their compensation in a direct and upfront manner. There may be substantial cost of living differences for judges in certain communities. The way to address such disparities is to develop a compensation formula at the state level for addressing such differences. If there is a problem with judicial retention as some counties claim, then let the legislature develop a system for addressing the problem.

Final Analysis: Who Will Uphold Justice Against Bribery of LA County Judges?

Richard-Fine

Dr. Richard I. Fine, Ph.D.; JD

Dr. Richard I. Fine, Ph.D.; JD, provides the final analysis of the legal predicament facing the counties and state Superior Court judges.

Dr. Fine is a recognized leader in exposing governmental and judicial corruption. He is working hard to create a more just global society by providing expertise on issues relating to abuses of power, governance, international and comparative law, human rights and litigation oversight. He works as a Strategic Consultant and as a Certified Mediator. He is the Chairman and Founder of the Campaign for Judicial Integrity, a grassroots movement dedicated to ending judicial corruption, reforming the judicial system and restoring our constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. He also is the Co-Chairperson of the Judicial Reform Committee of DivorceCorp. Dr. Fine summarizes the situation in California this way:

Sturgeon III shifted the dynamic. The burden is now on the judges, the counties, the local courts, the U.S. Attorney General, the State Legislature, the State Attorney General, the District Attorneys, the Commission on Judicial Performance and the Supreme Court and others to enforce the law. The Superior Court judges must either give back all the monies received since 2008 if such were above the annual 2008 level, or the judges and the counties, county supervisors, local courts and presiding judges and employees of both face criminal prosecution on both the state [California Penal Code Sections 96.5 and 182 (a) (5)] and federal level [18 U.S.C. Section 1346].

Additionally, the judges may be impeached by the State Assembly and convicted by the State Senate for “misconduct in office.”

Further, the judges may be removed from office by the Commission on Judicial Performance and the California Supreme Court for taking illegal payments.

The question now is – will these individuals and entities fulfill their obligations? [8]

References

[1] “Court’s Holding Supplemental Judicial Payments Open to All Judges May End the Practice,” Richard Fine, Daily Kos, 6/03/2016. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/6/2/1533816/-Court-s-Holding-Supplemental-Judicial-Payments-Open-to-All-Judges-May-End-the-Practice

[2] “Congressional Testimony, Dr. Richard Fine, to Bill Windsor of Lawless America.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Txv1vWZvN8c  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHIm4tcdmRE

[3] IBID.

[4] “Court’s Holding Supplemental Judicial Payments Open to All Judges May End the Practice,” Richard Fine, Daily Kos, 6/03/2016. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/6/2/1533816/-Court-s-Holding-Supplemental-Judicial-Payments-Open-to-All-Judges-May-End-the-Practice

[5] “Bribery,” FindLaw, Retrieved 6/9/2016. http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/bribery.html

[6] “HAROLD P. STURGEON, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES et al., Defendants and Respondents,” Court of Appeal for the State of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, filed 12/14/2015, G051016 (Super. Ct. No. BC541213). http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/G051016.PDF

[7] IBID.

[8] “Court’s Holding Supplemental Judicial Payments Open to All Judges May End the Practice,” Richard Fine, Daily Kos, 6/03/2016. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/6/2/1533816/-Court-s-Holding-Supplemental-Judicial-Payments-Open-to-All-Judges-May-End-the-Practice

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