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Los Angeles County’s own budget documents reveal that since the late 1980s the County has paid judges of the Los Angeles Superior Court more than $300 million in “local judicial benefits.” These County payments range up to $46,386 per judge per year. Added to judges’ State-paid salary and benefits of $192,386, they push L.A. Superior Court judges’ annual pay to $249,413, giving them yearly “compensation” higher than that of associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, (approximately $217,000) — higher even than that of the chief justice, (approximately $218,000).
During the same period, L.A. Superior Court judges decided cases and made orders in favor of the County to the exclusion of the opposing parties in cases before them. L.A. County Counsel documents show that in the years 2005 and 2006-2007, not one person won a case against L.A. County when the decision was made by an L.A. Superior Court judge.
For 2008, the County reported that it had prevailed in nearly two-thirds of its trials (in 25 cases: 16 wins, seven losses, and two hung juries) and received favorable decisions in more than 90% of its appellate cases.
These violations have directly cost L.A. County homeowners, taxpayers, and residents over $300 million of “unconstitutional” L.A. County payments to L.A. Superior Court judges in the last twenty years, and are continuing at the rate of approximately $21 million per year.
Perhaps most troubling is the fact that L.A. Superior Court judges knew that taking payments from L.A. County was unconstitutional, that it violated the Code of Judicial Ethics [Cannons 2A, 2B(1), 3B(5), 3E(1) and (2), 4D(1) (4) and (5)] and that not disclosing such payments violated the Political Reform Act, all of which violates the citizens’ implied right to honest services. Other California counties make similar payments to judges, but not in the lavish amount paid by L.A. County. Some counties discontinued their payments after the enactment of the 1997 Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act (Cal. Govt. Code §77000 et seq.).
Against the backdrop of seemingly intractable judicial misbehavior, the situation of Attorney Richard I. Fine puts a human face on the intolerable cost of corruption in the courts.
Richard Fine is a taxpayer-advocate attorney whose work has saved taxpayers more than a billion dollars over his lengthy and distinguished career. His record was impeccable prior to this conflict; now his livelihood hangs in the balance.
Mr. Fine was jailed on trumped-up contempt charges on March 4, 2009. He remains to this day in L.A. County Men’s Central Jail, the “worst jail in the United States,” according to an ACLU investigation and report.
We, Mr. Fine’s friends, colleagues and supporters are asking the public’s help in getting him out of jail, first as a matter of justice, and second, so that he can resume his effort to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to overhaul California’s judiciary compensation system. With your help, we can foresee a time when injured parties can reliably expect a fair outcome in their entanglements with Los Angeles County.