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COURTHOUSE UPGRADES ARE A RED-HEADED STEPCHILD IN SACRAMENTO Judicial pension reform? You bet. New judgeships? Absolutely. Money for new courthouses? Don’t hold your breath. That’s how state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata summed up his judicial priorities for the new two-year legislative session, which started Monday. The Oakland Democrat came to the Judicial Council’s meeting in San Francisco last week to pick up a thank-you gift (a globe-shaped plaque) from Chief Justice Ronald George, who credited the Senate leader with securing an 8.5 percent pay raise for judges during summer budget negotiations. Perata told the assembled jurists that he’ll push for 50 new judgeships in next year’s budget while trying to boost the number of women and ethnic minorities who apply for bench positions. The former teacher also said he will campaign for another judicial pay raise. “I’ll do it every year ’til I’m gone,” he told an appreciative audience. “You shouldn’t be making the same as the guy who’s driving the MUNI bus out here.” Perata said he also supports reform of the judiciary’s two-tier pension system. Judicial officials want to boost benefits for judges appointed after Nov. 9, 1994. Those newer judges must now serve 20 years and reach 65 years of age before they can receive a pension equal to 75 percent of their salary. Officials say the system, known as JRS II, forces many judges to work into their 70s. They hope to cut that service requirement to 10 years and drop the qualifying age for that group to 63. On the issue of courthouse improvements, however, Perata said he understands California’s enormous infrastructure needs but “I will tell you candidly that I still want to concentrate on � attracting and retaining the highest-quality” judges. George has not ruled out trying to put a courthouse bond on the ballot, and officials are still considering some form of lease-revenue bonds, which would not require voter approval. Perata told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year that voters wouldn’t support a court-improvement bond because “most of them think Judge Judy has a very fine courthouse.” And scanning the Judicial Council’s well-appointed chambers last week, Perata seemed at that moment inclined to agree with their view. “This is a great clubhouse you’ve got here,” he said.

Cheryl Miller

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