High Court on Furloughs: Not So Fast

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    CORTE MADERA, CA - JULY 10: A California Department of Motor Vehicles customer peers into the door of a closed DMV branch July 10, 2009 in Corte Madera, California. As California struggles with a $26-billion budget imbalance, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency earlier this month and has ordered three work furlough days per month leaving most state offices closed today. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

    The California Supreme Court on Thursday denied Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's request that it combine seven appeals court lawsuits to speed up a final decision on whether the state can legally furlough more than 200,000 state employees.

    The suits by public employee unions challenge Schwarzenegger's furloughs of state employees for three days each month. He imposed them last year to help the state save money.

    The administration also had wanted the justices to delay all 25 pending legal challenges in appellate and trial courts while the high court considered the consolidated cases. Meanwhile, the furloughs continue.

    The justices did not give a reason for their decision. The one-sentence order said Justice Joyce Kennard dissented from the majority ruling.

    Schwarzenegger had asked the justices in March to combine the cases because they involve similar legal challenges to the governor's authority to require employees to take unpaid time off work.

    The seven cases include three in Alameda County, where a judge has ruled the governor cannot furlough employees who are paid through fees and federal funds rather than the state's general fund.

    "We are disappointed that the court will not allow the state to save hundreds of thousands of dollars by consolidating these lawsuits and expediting the appeals process to promptly resolve this important issue," said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola. She said the administration is confident the courts will ultimately uphold the governor's furlough authority.

    She said the administration so far has spent more than $736,000 fighting the lawsuits.

    Professional Engineers in California Government is one of the unions suing Schwarzenegger, but it joined him in asking the high court to consider all the cases quickly.

    "We basically said, how about if you take all of these cases ... rather than spending a couple of years plowing through the courts of appeal," said Bruce Blanning, the union's executive director.

    Aside from legal costs, that would also have taxpayers' money if the state ultimately loses, Blanning said, because it will have to pay back furloughed employees' lost wages and interest.