Justice for the Courts and the Car Allowance
by Daniel Brainard
The upcoming $33 million in budget cuts that the San Diego Superior Court faces includes the closing of some court locations, the elimination of court reporters for family and civil trials, and the scaling back of various other services. This budget does not include cutting the “luxury” car stipend that is reserved for the judges. The car stipend is not mandated and is enjoyed by only a few other courts in California. Ultimately this stipend will cost the taxpayers of San Diego nearly $1 million each year. When such significant cuts needed to be made that could put the court’s integrity in jeopardy, this allowance is ridiculous and should have been first on the list of cuts.
In late September, a San Diego CityBeat story by Dave Maass provided details of the car allowance situation: Judges keep car perks –Despite enormous service cutbacks, Superior Court maintains nearly $1 million in vehicle allowances
Jim Miller, running for Superior Court Seat 25, summed it up pretty well in the CityBeat story:
“If it’s just, you get in your car and you drive to the courthouse and maybe go to lunch with a buddy, then back to the courthouse and go home—that’s ridiculous,” Miller says. “I think if we’re laying off [employees] and… making people drive from Oceanside to downtown San Diego because we can’t keep courthouses open, I think people have to think about [the allowance]. It doesn’t sound appropriate.”
Miller has gone further to pledge, “If I am elected I will use it for court reporters when needed in my court.”
His opponent in the race, Robert Amador, declined to give a straightforward answer when asked about the car stipend. Amador responded to CityBeat, “When I am elected I will review the entire salary and benefits package and make an informed decision at that time.”
For a benefit that is very obviously unnecessary, given the lack of “on the job driving” that judges do, it is surprising that he cannot make an informed decision already. However, Mr. Amador is not unfamiliar with wanting generous amounts of taxpayer money.
Mr. Amador is currently a Deputy DA and rates a pension worth close to $150,000 per year. He also currently receives a county car. If Amador is elected he would be receiving approximately $330,000 in compensation from the salary as a judge and the DA pension from the taxpayers of San Diego. And he still won’t give up this $7,000. While I do not doubt that Amador wants to see San Diegans receive proper justice through the courts, he obviously has no problem seeing San Diegan’s tax dollars used unjustly.
Keep in mind that over 90 percent of the current judges are former government attorneys with most of them being prosecutors like Amador and they most likely receive benefits very similar to what he would receive. This revolving door of governmental employees going onto a job at a different level of government so that can they effectively “double dip” the pension system is a major cause of the fiscal problems our governments face. And not willing to give up a $7,000 allowance while such massive cuts are being put in place that can affect the integrity of our justice system is flat out robbery.
Miller’s pledge to use this car stipend not for himself, but for court services is the right step to bring some fiscal sanity back to the court. If you want to see justice in the court and with the use of your tax dollars, vote for Jim Miller.
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Brainard, a volunteer supporting Jim Miller, previously served as an intern for State Senator Joel Anderson.
Note from Admin: This column first appeared earlier today without proper credit to San Diego CityBeat for information appearing in a September story written by Dave Maass. That information has now been added. It is SD Rostra’s policy to provide credit and links to other media sources, when referenced. We apologize for the first iteration of this guest column not having included that information.