Enter the judges

Oct 15, 2012

Judges are key components of the government pension system, although they rarely figure in the public debate over pension reforms. But they are important, not only because of their benefits but because their decisions can affect them personally.


From Calpensions' Ed Mendel: "The public employees most lightly touched by a pension reform signed by Gov. Brown last month are the judges, whose court rulings on public pensions can affect their own pensions and retirement income."


"Judges have the biggest pension formula and make one of the smallest pension contributions. But unlike others covered by the reform, current judges are not expected to pay half the normal pension cost, and new judges do not get a lower pension."


"The one way judges are affected by the reform bill: New judges will be expected to contribute half the normal cost of their pensions. That could be about 15 percent of pay, well above the 8 percent that current judges will continue to pay."


"Did the framers of the reform bill, AB 340, which was negotiated in private by the Brown administration and legislative leaders, go easy on the judges to reduce the risk of lawsuits in which judges have a personal stake?"


Speaking of the judiciary: Thus far in the presidential campaign, the potential to change the U.S. Supreme Court has not arisen much as an issue. But whoever is elected president may be in a position to dramatically affect the court.


From the Chronicle's Bob Egelko: "The next president may have the power to change the direction of the Supreme Court - and determine the future of abortion, gay rights, corporate influence in politics and much more..."


"Despite the lack of attention, the prospect of recasting the majority on a court that is closely divided on many critical issues is one of the most important consequences of the Nov. 6 election."


"At least one of the court's nine seats is likely to become vacant in the next four years. Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 79 and has had cancer. Conservatives Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy are both 76. Liberal Stephen Breyer is 74. None has spoken publicly of retiring. Ginsburg has said she plans to stay until at least 2015. But longtime justices often time their departure so that a president with compatible views can choose their successor."


California's anti-carbon emssions law, a landmark statute aimed at curbing global warming, now faces a major challenge in federal court.


From Howard Mintz in the Mercury News: "Having fended off a challenge to groundbreaking emissions standards for new cars, California now finds itself in a legal tug-of-war to preserve some of its unprecedented regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of fuels."


"The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday will hear arguments in a legal challenge to the 2006 regulations, which a Fresno federal judge last year struck down as unconstitutional. The judge sided with an array of gas, trucking and farming industry interests aligned against the complex effort to curtail the carbon footprint of transportation fuels."


"Legal experts say the appeal could crucially test how far a state can go with such broad greenhouse gas regulations."


In San Francisco, victims' advocates are bitterly disappointed that Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who was ousted following a domestic dispute with his wife, wound up getting his job back.


From the Chronicle's Heather Knight: "But now San Francisco is a national embarrassment, say advocates for victims of domestic violence, for reinstating Ross Mirkarimi as sheriff after he admitted bruising his wife's arm and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of false imprisonment because of it."


"It certainly feels like a time warp," said Andrea Shorter, a political consultant who chairs the city's Justice and Courage Oversight Panel, which aims to improve the way the city handles domestic violence cases. "You have to scratch your head and say, 'Wait a minute. How could this be happening in 2012 in San Francisco?' "


"Mirkarimi is on three years' probation and enrolled in a domestic violence program, while also overseeing those same batterers' programs and maintaining the jails in which domestic violence suspects are held. He has said he once had a strong relationship with advocates for victims of domestic violence and hopes to re-establish those ties."



Across the bay in Oakland, a port official's use of a strip club to hold a party that was paid of on the public dime is drawing attention.


From Matier and Ross: "A high-ranking Port of Oakland official is in hot water for throwing down $4,500 in public funds for a party at a Houston strip club."


"Port commissioners met in an emergency closed session late Friday to discuss the case involving Maritime Director James Kwon and his $4,537 bill for a "drink and dinner reception" at Treasures, an upscale gentlemen's club where Kwon entertained about a dozen shipping industry executives during a 2008 conference in Houston."


"Not that it would have been immediately apparent to port officials that the bill was for a strip club. The receipt Kwon submitted for the reception says it was held at D. Houston Inc. - the name of the strip club's parent company."



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