The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

January 22, 2010
From the notebook: Law professor talks about furlough cases

notebook.jpgWe can never get everything we learn into a news story or State Worker column. "From the notebook" posts give you the notes, quotes, details and documents that inform what we write.

Our story in today's Bee notes that Thursday's furlough lawsuit decision in favor of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to contradict three rulings against the governor made by an Alameda County court last month.

So what now? We asked UC Davis law professor Vikram Amar that question and several others in a brief telephone interview on Thursday afternoon. Two quotes got into the story. Here's the rest of our conversation.

Click the following link to read The State Worker Q & A with Amar.

The State Worker: So we have this Thursday furlough decision seems to say the governor's across-the-board furloughs are OK. He doesn't have to take the departments' funding source into consideration. But the Alameda rulings said he should have. How can this be reconciled?

Amar: Trial court judges are really placeholders in these kinds of cases. No offense to the lower courts, but they are. Any important decisions will happen at the appellate level or higher.

TSW: So what one superior court judge decides doesn't set a precedent for subsequent cases? We have two dozen furlough lawsuits in the courts, and many of them make similar arguments.

Amar: A lower court judge isn't bound by what other lower court judges decide. They can come up with different answers to the same or similar questions. It happens all the time.

TSW: So how do dissimilar decisions get resolved?

Amar: Ultimately, this is something that the California Supreme Court is going to have to resolve. I assume that there will be lawsuits alive and relevant for them to step in.

TSW: From what I understand, that could take a long time, long after this governor is out of office and furloughs end. Why would the court want to take up the issue?

Amar: I think the court would be inclined to take these cases to provide guidance going into the future and lay out some general ground rules. I'm sure that the justices of the California Supreme Court think that is will probably be a recurring, important issue, given the budgetary climate.


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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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