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Controller loses in court battle over lawmakers' pay

April 25, 2012 |  4:16 pm

Chiang 2A Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that Controller John Chiang was wrong to withhold lawmakers’ pay during last year’s budget dispute.

The decision by Judge David Brown was a victory for legislative leaders, who argued that Chiang did not have the authority to claim the budget they passed was unbalanced.

Brown had issued a tentative ruling Tuesday. He finalized it during a hearing Wednesday after listening to arguments from lawyers representing Chiang and legislative leaders.

In a statement after the ruling, Chiang said the judge was undermining Proposition 25, which allows lawmakers’ pay to be withheld if they don’t pass a balanced budget on time.

“It gives lawmakers the sole authority to determine if they’ve done their job and deserve their pay,” Chiang said. “This is not a constitutional powers issue.  It is about the people’s will."

Chiang can still appeal the ruling, and said he would discuss his options with the state attorney general.

Fred Woocher, a lawyer for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles), said the controller was violating the separation of powers between government branches.

"The controller sits in his office and looks through a bunch of papers and decides what will happen in the Legislature?" Woocher said. "When did he get to appoint himself king?"

Brown was sympathetic to that argument throughout the hearing, at one point saying the controller could become more powerful than the governor.

"That causes me some trepidation," he said.

Photo: California Controller John Chiang. Credit: Jonathan Alcorn / Bloomberg


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