Guv wins latest furlough court fight

In the seesaw court fights over the administration’s efforts to cut the budget by reducing compensation to state employees, the latest round goes to the administration.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge A. James Robertson has ruled in favor of the governor’s ability to order furloughs – days off without pay — for state scientists who are paid out of special funds. His decision came in a challenge brought by the California Association of Professional Scientists, or CAPS, a 3,000-member state-employee union that represents scientists, surveyors, biologists and others.  

CAPS’ lawsuit claimed that the state couldn’t furlough workers paid out of special funds because it did nothing to help the General Fund, the state’s principal repository of income, sales and corporate taxes. Unlike the General Fund, the special funds typically are generated by fees from regulated industries.

The judge ruled from the bench that CAPS had failed to present sufficient evidence to charge the governor with abuse of discretion.  

“The decision is disappointing but not entirely unexpected.  Superior court judges have shown great reluctance to interfere with the Governor’s unilateral mandates ostensibly intended to restore fiscal health to the General fund,” says CAPS spokeswoman Lisa Marie Burcar.

This marks a win for the state in a line of successful furlough lawsuits filed by state worker unions.  Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled in favor of state workers in three December cases brought by three unions – Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California Attorneys in State Employment (CASE) and the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD).

Pending consultation with its leaders, CAPS will likely choose to appeal Robertson’s decision and act as quickly as possible, Burcar said.  Until then, they will monitor the appeal on their first furlough lawsuit, which is heading for the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento.  

“The first hearing at the appellate level will likely be this spring before the 3rd District, in a case filed by CAPS challenging the governor’s authority to mandate unpaid furloughs.  A final decision may ultimately necessitate review by the California Supreme Court,” CAPS said.

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