Lawsuit by retired California judges alleges age discrimination in state court overhaul
Three retired California judges including Sonoma resident Julie Conger are accusing the Judicial Council of California and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye of age discrimination in a lawsuit spurred by new rules limiting how long they can work in temporary assignments.
The state’s Assigned Judges Program, which costs the state about $27 million annually, allows trial courts to tap retired judges to fill in for judicial absences, such as when judges take leave for vacation and illness, in order to prevent delays in civil, criminal, family and other proceedings in California’s 58 trial courts.
Last year, Cantil-Sakauye introduced new rules barring retired judges from working more than 1,320 days — the equivalent of a six-year term limit of an elected superior court judge. The change was among a slate of new guidelines designed to limit spending and encourage courts to avoid requesting retired judges when their services are not needed. The adjustments were applauded in an April state auditor report stemming from an investigation into a whistleblower complaint about the program.
Conger, 76, and her fellow plaintiffs, retired Orange County judges Glenn Mahler and James Poole — who have continued working about a decade after retirement and exceeded the new, retroactive limit — argue the changes discriminate against older and more experienced judges. Conger has put in a decade of work on the bench in Sonoma County since she retired in 2008 after 25 years on the bench in Alameda County.
The trio claim it’s unlawful to curb the number of days they can work after retiring, contending that such a move “amounts to illegal age discrimination” because it is “not based on bona fide occupational qualifications,” according to the complaint filed Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court. Conger declined to comment about the lawsuit and referred a Press Democrat reporter to her attorney.
“We’re not saying they have an absolute right to be appointed,” said Daniel Mason, an attorney for the plaintiffs who noted retired justices must apply and be accepted into the program. “What we’re saying is you can’t discriminate against judges who are older and have worked longer.”
A spokesman for the judicial council, a policymaking body chaired by Cantil-Sakauye that oversees California courts, said they cannot comment on a pending lawsuit and said that they have not yet been served with a copy of the complaint.
Assigned judges are paid $763.32 per day plus reimbursements for travel, lodging and meals — pay they receive while collecting their state pensions.
Conger has earned $1.2 million by working in retirement in addition to $61,908 in travel expenses reimbursed by the state, a judicial council spokesman said. Poole and Mahler have each been paid more than $1.5 million over the past decade working through the program, plus additional reimbursements totaling $2,260 and $1,010 respectively, the council said.
They judges receive monthly pensions between $13,337 and $13,714, according to the CalPERS, the state pension system.
Most California judges are appointed by the governor through a nomination process, but they have term limits and must be elected to remain on the bench. The term limit for superior court judges is six years; it is 12 years for appellate judges and state Supreme Court justices.