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COURTS NOT INVITED TO BONDING PARTY Lawmakers may have officially iced the courts out of a $37 billion bond deal sealed early Friday, but fear not, says Chief Justice Ronald George. Plans are in the works to find the billions needed to rehab California’s courthouses. “We haven’t given up,” George said Friday afternoon. “I’m not discouraged.” Court leaders may offer their own bonds, or a hike in filing fees, or “something else,” George said. A separate bond issue seems like a dicey proposal. A Field Poll showed minimal public support for courthouses fixes. And if voters approve the bond measures OK’d by legislators on Friday, the annual debt service for all of California’s outstanding notes could reach a whopping $7.5 billion in the next decade. That represents an 8.5 percent debt service ratio, based on current revenue. Expect fiscal conservatives to turn blue with budgetary horror if the courts try to increase that yearly price tag. If George is fazed, it doesn’t show. Trial court unification took a few tries before it happened, he said. So why should finding money for courthouse construction be any easier? “The public has a definite need for safe and secure courthouses,” he said, “which we will pursue.” - Cheryl Miller YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND Court employees with a beef over management have found an ally in the union-friendly California legislature. Assembly Democrats are carrying two bills for unions representing court workers: the first would outlaw “ghost” personnel files, and the second would prohibit courts from classifying long-term employees as temporary for the purpose of paying them lower salaries and fewer benefits. Both bills have sailed through committee hearings in the Democrat-controlled Assembly. Willie Pelote, a lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said some court managers keep one official, sanitized employee file that they show to workers and a second, “secret” file that they only share with other managers when considering promotions, raises or discipline. “All that information should be in the official employment file,” Pelote said, so workers can challenge any inaccurate records. Court employees could ask labor regulators to investigate the alleged practice but chose instead to have the Legislature “clarify” the law, he said. Pelote said he’s heard complaints about dual files from employees around the state “but in Los Angeles it’s egregious.” No one from the Los Angeles County Superior Court was available late last week to comment on the bill or Pelote’s accusations. The union also accuses the Los Angeles trial courts of hiring law clerks as temporary employees, using them as full-time workers and then summarily firing them without cause after two years. AFSCME wants the workers hired full-time, and their cause has been championed by Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, D-Norwalk, a budget subcommittee chairman who wields significant control over the courts’ purse strings. The squabble over L.A.’s law clerks has continued over several years, and last year Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill by Bermudez that tried to end the temporary-hiring practice. Bermudez said he’s made some small changes in the legislation to win the governor’s support. “We need to bring this to a close,” Bermudez said last week. But the courts want the Legislature to stay out of the tiff. “Ultimately it is an issue that should be bargained locally,” said Eraina Ortega of the Judicial Council. Lawmakers show no sign of backing away from either dispute, however. That likely leaves Schwarzenegger to decide whether he’ll thwart the union’s agenda once again or take a more conciliatory tack. - Cheryl Miller

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