The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

September 10, 2010
From the notebook: Roussos analyzes Supreme Court hearing

"From the notebook" posts give State Worker blog users insights, notes and quotes that went into news stories that we write.

We quoted Athena Roussos, an Elk Grove-based appellate attorney who has argued before the California Supreme Court, in this story about the California Supreme Court hearing in the PECG v. Schwarzenegger furlough case.

Roussos said plenty more about the hearing when we spoke on Wednesday afternoon. Here are some of her thoughts after viewing the oral arguments:

On the style of the attorney's presentations:
I don't think the court liked the way the plaintiffs divided each issue among attorneys. Justice (Joyce) Kennard wanted to ask whatever she wanted to ask and not have to keep track of which lawyer was talking about which issue. Having one attorney is probably a better way to go, but they were dealing with a lot of issues, so I understand it. ... All the attorneys did a decent job. This is really difficult stuff. All of them have really different styles. I don't think anybody was personally ineffective.

On whether the court agreed with Schwarzenegger's attorney, David Tyra, that furloughs aren't changes to pay that need legislative approval:
I did feel like (Justice Kathryn) Werdegar was very skeptical about it. Tyra was saying it was an overall compensation reduction, but she seemed skeptical that furloughs weren't (illegally) changing the salary range.

On the court's questioning of Schwarzenegger's attorney:
Overall I felt like the court was giving some softball questions to the administration, at first at least. Overall the tone early on seemed a little more accepting of this idea that the Legislature (through budget acts passed in 2009 that included employee compensation cuts) acquiesced in his (furlough) action.

On who will write the decision:
I think (Chief) Justice (Ron) George might be authoring an opinion, this is such a big issue. But you could see some divisions, so there could be multiple decisions.

On who will win:
I probably would lean toward the administration at this point, but it's really tough to say. From the tone of the questions, I don't know if court agrees that he has this implied authority. But it may be willing to say that the Legislature implicitly went along.

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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 jortiz@sacbee.com.

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