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SACRAMENTO � The union representing 3,500 state-employed attorneys and hearing officers sued Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday, claiming that its members’ salaries are so paltry that they threaten to drain the state’s legal ranks of competent professionals. California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges, and Hearing Officers in State Employment � the union better known as CASE � contends that some of its members make less than half as much as their counterparts in local and federal government agencies. They’ve asked a Sacramento County Superior Court judge to appoint a special master and to order pay hikes for CASE members based on the master’s analysis of comparable wages. “We have been lagging behind in pay for many, many years,” said CASE President Holly Wilkens, a deputy attorney general based in San Diego. “The gap keeps growing and there’s just no end in sight.” Lynelle Jolley, spokeswoman for the state Department of Personnel Administration, said the agency’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation. CASE’s legal action follows several months of unproductive contract negotiations between the union and state management representatives. The union’s most recent collective bargaining agreement expired on Saturday. Brooks Ellison, one of the attorneys representing CASE, contends that the state holds an unfair negotiating advantage because union members, including more than 1,000 deputy attorneys general, will not strike. “The problem that attorneys face is that they have a professional responsibility to their clients that is different from other employees,” Ellison said. Some CASE members argue that state attorneys can and should strike, but the union’s leaders have adhered to a no-walkout policy. In a recent comparative salary survey, the state concedes that its pay for attorneys lags behind those employed in other public agencies in the Bay Area and Southern California. But the survey insists that, despite the disparities, “agencies have not reported any problems in finding and keeping attorneys.” Wilkens and Ellison say that’s laughable and point to letters from former Attorney General Bill Lockyer and current AG Jerry Brown saying that low pay is hurting recruitment efforts. They also say the state study was released only four days before the current CASE contract expired, leaving no time for its use in pre-expiration contract talks, and that it’s riddled with errors. CASE hired its own analyst, UCLA professor of management David Lewin, who called the state’s salary survey “fatally flawed.” By his own calculations, Lewin found that the average salary of a CASE-represented attorney is $99,907. The average non-CASE attorney working in education, government or nonprofit fields is $204,991, he said. The average private-sector salary, he said, is $242,618. “It is my opinion that a 105 percent salary increase for [CASE] attorneys is required in order to bring their salaries into line with those paid by the education, government and nonprofit employers in California,” Lewin wrote in a brief filed with the court. No hearing date has been set yet on CASE’s lawsuit.

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