Sturgeon v. County of L.A.Annotate this Case
In 2008, plaintiff Harold Sturgeon successfully sued Los Angeles County. The suit concerned Los Angeles County's practice of paying fringe or "supplemental" benefits to the county's superior court judges, and how that, he argued, contravened article VI, section 19, of the state Constitution. An appellate court agreed, holding the duty of prescribing compensation for judges could not be delegated to a county. In immediate response to "Sturgeon I," the Legislature added section 68220 to the Government Code. Sturgeon then unsuccessfully challenged the new legislation on two grounds: (1) it still allowed counties the choice of whether to pay supplemental benefits at all; and (2) it left existing disparities in judicial benefits between the various counties intact. The same appellate panel that issued Sturgeon I rejected the attack on section 68220, reasoning there were sufficient "safeguards" in the statute's notice requirement to prevent counties from terminating benefits in a manner inconsistent with the "broad policies" set down by the Legislature, so the benefits could continue. The court in "Sturgeon II" also observed the new legislation was but an "interim measure." After review, the Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of Sturgeon's challenge to the Los Angeles County practice: "section 68220 requires those counties paying supplemental benefits as of July 1, 2008, to continue paying them on the same terms and conditions as were in effect on July 1, 2008, and to pay them to all judges of the county's superior court, not just those judges who held office as of July 1, 2008. Counties thus have no discretion under section 68220 to fix compensation – it has already been fixed by the Legislature. As so construed, the statute complies with article VI, section 19 of the California Constitution."