Retired judge Quentin L. Kopp is legal counsel for a lawsuit filed by three retired judges that accuses the Judicial Council and its chief of “workplace ageism.” (Victor Tence/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Retired judges say they are victims of ‘workplace ageism’

Lawsuit challenges rules limiting time on the bench

Judges typically preside over lawsuits.

But on Thursday, three retired judges filed a lawsuit against the Judicial Council and the Chief Justice of California in order to challenge what they are calling “discriminatory and ageist” rules that limit the time a retired judge can participate in a program that assigns them to understaffed courts.

The Assigned Judges Program works to fill empty benches in California’s trial courts with retired judges, to prevent delays if a sitting judge were to take leave due to medical reasons, vacations or disqualification, according to a report by the Judicial Council.

The lawsuit directly challenges the 1,320 day cap that Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil Sakauye placed on the program on May 21, 2018.

The limitation, which had never existed before, was applied retroactively, which means that of the approximately 375 retired judges that serve through the program, 72 have maxed out their days and are no longer eligible to serve.

This limitation disproportionately impacts older judges and is evidence of “workplace ageism,” according to Judge Quentin L. Kopp, legal counsel to the plaintiffs and a retired judge in his own right.

The lawsuit claims that plaintiffs have been denied the additional money and benefits they would have received if they could have continued participating in the program.

“The Chief Justice ordered a new rule that changed the complexion of the assigned judges program demonstrably and regrettably,” said Kopp.

The Examiner reached out to Sakauye and the Judicial Council but they were not willing to comment on a pending lawsuit.

They did, however, defend the rule changes by referring to a state auditors report published last month that states “the Judicial Council of California inefficiently administered it’s ‘Assigned Judges Program’

“…By modifying the process to establish metrics for judicial participation and changing how it allocates service days and funds in the AJP, the Judicial Council has taken steps to administer the AJP in a more efficient manner,” the report states.

The audit revealed five counties that were requesting funds to finance temporary judges when reports indicated that their staff of full-time judges should have been able to adequately handle their caseloads.

Memos released by the council say the changes will limit waste and create more opportunities for recently retired judges while underscoring the temporary nature of the help provided through the program.

Furthermore, the council allows retired judges that have maxed out their days in the program to apply for an exemption that will allow them to continue serving. The council emphasized this in a letter it sent responding to Kopp’s concerns.

Kopp said the exception application process is an added layer of bureaucracy that nullifies any gains in efficiency by “costing taxpayers extra money,” and is vulnerable to “favoritism.”

“You are at the whim of the California Supreme Court to grant you an exception,” He said. “…Of course they can play favorites, when you put on the robe you don’t divest yourself from human qualities,” said Kopp.

The lawsuit will be served to the defendants who typically have 20 calendar days to respond, according to a spokesperson from the Furth Salem Mason and Li law firm that represents the plaintiffs.

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