I have previously written about the importance of maintaining a good rapport with courtroom staff. If you are in a California courtroom, and you notice the clerk and other staff seem less . . . er . . . satisfied with their jobs, I might have an idea why. The Daily Journal reported Wednesday that “[a]fter years of automatic pay increases for employees at courts across the state, budget cuts have stopped so-called cost-of-living adjustment pay increases at many courts. Now some court administrators are considering reducing for freezing ‘step increases’ which are part of many employees’ union contracts.” This is in contrast 3-5 percent annual cost-of-living pay increases in California’s largest courts in the years before the recession started.
I suppose in the pyramid of bad news, a salary freeze ranks below a layoff. But the courts have already been through layoffs and furloughs and, as the cost of everything from housing to cars to groceries climbs, these employees will begin feeling poorer before too long. The best of the bunch (i.e., the better educated, organized, more motivated) will likely scout out better employment. Some who are loyal to a particular judge might also stay. But a pay freeze isn’t going to make anyone happy and, as Lisa Major, Assistant General Manager of the Orange County Employees Association, pointed out, “[e]liminating step increases in general, if you’re looking at it from a human resources perspective, is never a good idea.”
Brace yourselves, California litigators, our courts are going to seem more and more like a chapter out of Kafka.