When not in his courtroom, Orange County’s Presiding Judge Thomas Boris has been seen recently walking the fifth floor of the Hall of Administration lobbying county supervisors.
His mission: To convince county supervisors that they should let him and the hundreds of judges at the OC Superior Court keep their county-paid health care.
The state took over the administration of the courts from the county in recent years, and now pays their salaries. But due to a strange quirk, the county is still on the hook for their healthcare.
However, with the county’s budget walking a tightrope, there is talk that the budget bean counters are working to wiggle the county off that hook.
That will probably be easier said than done because state law makes it complicated to change a judge’s compensation. County CEO Tom Mauk confirmed as much, saying “we are mandated to do it by state law.”
But the judges don’t seem to be taking any chances, and for good reason. According to sources, they get quite the Cadillac plan with all deductibles and co-pays covered. They even get an optional benefit each year — just like the one given to the county’s executive managers — of $4,500 for such expenses as gym memberships. Or they can just cash it out.
The plan costs OC taxpayers slightly more than $2 million each year. The state’s health care plans are nowhere near as generous.
Some counties have stopped paying the subsidy for judicial health care. But a recent state law complicates terminating the benefit. County’s must give judges a six-month notice that they intend to terminate.
That’s the decision soon facing Orange County supervisors: Should they put Superior Court judges on notice.
Hence Boris’ lobbying effort.
“We are talking with the court about the issue and how and if we want to proceed with the notice, pending state legislation that would be intended to solve the problem on a statewide basis,” Mauk said.
Since the county does share a ton of real estate with the court system at the Civic Center – and things like contracts for security through the Sheriffs Department – everyone is likely to tread lightly.
Not to mention that county supervisors often end up in court, whether it’s for pension litigation, labor conflicts or challenging ballot designations.
The message is simple: Judges aren’t people that supervisors like to pick fights with.
We’ve got calls out to the courts’ public relations people and will update as we get more information.
— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.