Eight of San Luis Obispo Superior Court’s 12 judges took a voluntary pay cut last year that was part of a California program designed to share the burden of forced furloughs brought on by budget woes.
Four judges opted not to participate and accepted their regular pay but went to work on the days that other state workers took furloughs.
In all, the local judges’ pay cuts amounted to more than $40,000.
Unlike most other state court workers, the staff in San Luis Obispo Superior Court was not forced to take the unpaid furlough — one day a month for 10 months — because their salaries were paid through careful budgeting that included leaving several positions vacant and having reserve money.
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All 12 local judges had agreed they would take pay cuts, too, if local staff had been forced to take the furlough, according to San Luis Obispo Superior Court’s Presiding Judge Charles Crandall.
“It was a unanimous decision that all of us would take the cuts, but it never came to that,” he said. “I took the cuts as the assistant presiding judge at the time partly because of my leadership position.”
Judge Barry LaBarbera, one of the four who did not take the reduction, said he would have if court staff had been forced to do so. But he worked during court closures on the 10 state furlough days, so he decided to accept his standard pay.
“It was a voluntary program, and I decided to take the pay because I was coming to work,” LaBarbera said.
Sharing sentiments expressed to him by the other three local judges who didn’t participate in the program, LaBarbera said that he and other judges often work after hours anyway — especially during trials.
Other after-hour duties include handling search warrants, which means judges are on call at any time of day or night.
Crandall estimated that an average weekly work schedule for a judge is 50 to 60 hours. Across the state, Superior Court judges earn $178,789, and the presiding judge earns $182,364, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The voluntary salary waiver program collected $4.59 million from judges in California last year to use toward trial court operations.
The idea behind the program was to encourage judges to voluntarily give up 4.62 percent of pay per month over a 10-month period, by way of one extra day off a month.
Most court staff members statewide were forced to take the furlough.
Some San Luis Obispo County court workers voluntarily took a day off as part of a one-day-a-month furlough. But others chose to work while the office was closed to the public.
Besides Crandall, local Judges Jac Crawford, Ginger Garrett, Linda Hurst, Martin Tangeman, John Trice, Roger Picquet and Roger Burke participated in the program at some point from September 2009 through June 2010.
Besides LaBarbera, those who chose not to take part were Judges Michael Duffy, Teresa Estrada-Mullaney and Dodie Harman. Judge Jacquelyn Duffy, who was on the bench as a new judge for about a month of the program, also opted not to participate.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court has a budget of about $20 million a year and a reserve of about $4 million year.
The court has 171 positions, of which about 150 currently are filled, said Susan Matherly, the court’s executive officer. The county court system handled 61,174 cases in 2010 — including criminal, civil, family law, mental health and juvenile.