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Chart:Santa Clara County Salaries SAN JOSE — Santa Clara County government attorneys, who two years ago were celebrating a contract that could boost their salaries by one-third over two years, are now accusing the county attorney of cooking the numbers to avoid paying out raises. At the center of the dispute is an annual salary survey of public and private lawyers, which under the contract will determine the size of raises. The attorneys accuse the Santa Clara County counsel’s office of tampering with the results by prodding low-paying nonprofits and small law firms to respond — and skewing the numbers downward. “Ann Ravel has led the effort to cook the books,” said Denis O’Neal, president of the County Counsel Attorneys Association. “They agreed to do a valid market survey, and now they want to renege on the promise.” Attorneys point to the disparity between the 2002 survey and the preliminary 2003 results. The 2002 survey showed first-year lawyers making an average of $127,000, but in the 2003 survey that number drops to $88,000. County officials counter that the attorneys want to inflate the results with salary figures from Palo Alto’s large law firms. They object to the unions’ efforts to augment the survey with salary data gathered from the Internet and legal newspapers. “Given the low responses, the county and the unions were asked by the survey company to contact others to encourage them to return the surveys,” Ravel said. “The union, for all we know, could have called others. “There was no effort to skew the survey. That they are willing to engage in personal attacks rather than thoughtful discourse over the methodology of the survey indicates something significant about their position.” Handing out raises would be difficult for the county, which is facing a $240 million deficit and is grappling with service cuts and layoffs to make ends meet. Under the contract, raises were due eight months ago. But the two sides continue to squabble over the survey results. Both parties are awaiting a decision from a non-binding facilitator. “Both sides have provided enough argument and rhetoric about this,” said Santa Clara County Executive Peter Kutras Jr. “Now it’s time to wait and get the fact-finder report. We’ll analyze that result. We’ll have to decide whether we follow the recommendation or not.” Under the original 2001 labor contract, attorneys would receive as much as a 15 percent raise two years in a row if independent salary surveys showed that their salaries were lagging behind the average lawyer pay in Silicon Valley. Attorneys cashed in with a 15 percent raise in 2002 when the first survey showed they made about half the average of their counterparts working in both the public and private sectors. But attorneys say the county rigged the 2003 survey results when the county counsel’s office called 79 nonprofits and small firms and implored them to respond, and then threatened not to pay the survey company if it conducted additional research to make the results statistically valid. “The county says it doesn’t care about meaningful results. It wants low results,” said Deputy DA James Shore, who is president of the Government Attorneys Association, which represents prosecutors and public defenders. “What the county did was they injected bias into the survey.” In a position paper on the survey, the county called the attorneys’ claims a “red herring.” The attorneys just want to eliminate low salary data to improve survey results, the paper said. Meanwhile, the association wants to force the county to the negotiating table in future disputes. The association voted earlier this month to spend $300,000 in an effort to gather votes to put a binding arbitration measure on the November ballot. If passed, the county would be forced into binding arbitration in future labor disputes. Shore said attorneys, who cannot strike, need this protection. “We need to inject a measure of fairness and efficiency into labor-management relations,” Shore said. “My members do not want to strike. The State Bar said if they took job action they’d be subject to discipline.” Attorneys received a 3.5 percent cost-of-living raise in December. According to Recorder salary surveys, Santa Clara County has some of the highest-paid government attorneys in the Bay Area.

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