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Judge rules against the state, calls breach of contract 'unconstitutional taking'

In a dramatic defeat to the Florida Legislature's effort to close its gaping budget hole, a Leon County court judge declared Tuesday that lawmaker's decision last year to cut state and local government worker salaries three percent was unconstitutional and ordered them to return the money with interest.

FulfordmugCircuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford said that the legislature's decision to turn to state employee salaries to help them close their budget gap was a breach of the state's contract with workers and "unconstitutional taking of private property without full compensation" and a violationg of the rights of public employees "to collectively bargain over conditions of employment."

Lawyers for Gov. Rick Scott and the House and Senate refused to comment on the ruling although Senate President Mike Haridopolos said Monday that if Fulford ruled against the state it would be the "ultimate case of judicial activism" and predicted they would immediately appeal the ruling.

“This was a gamble that the governor and legislature made last year,'' said Ron Meyer, attorney for the Florida Education Association which was the first of the unions to challenge the law. "They gambled taxpayer’s money that they could balance the budget on the backs of the hardworking employees of this state. They lost that bet today and what happened is the rule of the law and the contract that the legislature created is going to be enforced."

The ruling leaves a $1 billion budget hole in the state budget for this year and another $1 billion hole for the 2012-13 budget year. It also has a $600 million impact on county governments whose employees are in the Florida Retirement System. An appeal, however, would postpone the impact on the budget.

Senate budget chairman JD Alexander said Tuesday that no matter how Fulford ruled on the union lawsuit, it would have "no bearing at all" on this year's budget or last year's budget because only the Legislature can appropriate money. 

"Only this legislature can direct constitutional appropriations. Period. End of story," he said.

Fulford, who was appointed to the court by former Gov. Charlie Crist, appeared to anticipate the criticism. At the beginning of her 11-page ruling she said that she understands the "role of the judiciary is to interpret the law before it; not to make law."

But, she said, a 1981 decision by the Florida Supreme Court determined that while the legislature could cut employee salaries three percent to pay for retirement benefits, it could not breach the current contract it has with existing employees.

"This court cannot set aside its constitutional obligations because a budget crisis exists in the State of Florida,'' Fulford wrote. "...To find otherwise would mean that a contract with our state government has no meaning, and that the citizens of our state can place no trust in the work of our Legislature. Those are the findings this Court refuses to make."

The Florida Education Association and other state and local government unions sued the state last year Fordsmall after the Legislature cut worker salaries 3 percent, eliminated cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, for retirement benefits, and shifted the money into the general revenue fund to save the state $1 billion during the 2011 legislative session.

FEA president Andy Ford said the ruling proves "the Florida governor and the Florida Legislature are not
above the law" and urged them to "re-evaluate where they are. They have decided in this state, over and over again to provide tax relief to big corporations, the people who put contributions into their campaigns and it needs to stop. They need to fund the services of the State of Florida."

Ford called the ruling “an historic moment that the public employees of this state stood up to the power structure and we expect to continue to fight.’’

FEA lawyer Ron Meyer said the legislature should dip into its reserve account to repay employees.

Photos by Matt Riva/Miami Herald.


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The Crist stank lives on.

mick milbuen

hell yes Rick Scott loses again


Maybe now the budget can really be fixed by closing all of the big business tax loopholes that cost you and me $5 Billion annually. a win for workers for a change.

mick milbuen

whoomp there it is

Joe Blow

But how are we supposed to balance the budget if we can't do it on the backs of workers?


So now the Legislature will simply convert the 3% "taking" to a salary reduction for the state worker drones.

If she is arguing that the mandatory contribution "takes" the employee's private property, then she is truly lost in some bizarro world where the tax money the state takes from all of us becomes the future privileged, private property of state employees.

By that logic, government jobs become the personal property of the employees and they couldn't even be fired.

What absurd nonsense!

But this judge won't ever have to worry about the vast hordes of state workers in Tallahassee voting her out of office, will she.


whasup: Florida has no income tax.

mick milbuen

shutup whasup

Nancy Argenziano

The thugs who have stolen the R party to use as their own, have no respect for the Constitution.

I am thrilled that finally the people get a "win".

Protect our rights and protect the Constitution from these political corrupt hacks.


thank goodness there wasn't a breach of contract

it was only a breech


I was told the state wi file an appeal immediately and still make
Correctional officers pay in still is this true?


Thank you, Meyers and Brooks law firm!!


whasup: do you consider your paycheck dollars to be your personal property once you've earned them? Just wondering.


This is why Ricky is bald. He keeps getting smacked on the back of the head. lol




Liz- you can thank the FEA, they are the ones who brought suit.


A government employee judge says you can't cut the salaries of his fellow government employees. It's enough to make you sick.


Herbie would rather have judges hired and paid by Rick Scott Enterprises.


Whasup: The "3%" becomes private property because it's earned wages. You're just dumb.


Actually Anne, Many Unions filed suit to Include the Teamsters


Well, you know what Herbie ? I'm making less money now because of the economy. I am going to call up my creditors, including my unverse (contract) and tell me that I am going to pay them less because there's a hole in my budget. I'll get back to you and let you know what they say...ok ?

Michel M.

As Naomi Klein stated in her book The Shock Doctrine, this crop of Republican legislators have been dispensing their version of disaster capitalism. By employing a Machiavellian attack upon the public sector, they have capitalized on the economic crises of the past few years. Meanwhile large corporations continue to be buttressed by tax incentives in the guise of "job creation". Perhaps this ruling will expose and curb the hubris in Tallahassee...probably not!

Pedro F.

The taxpayers get screwed again by the judiciary.


Justice. True justice.


Yeah-finally someone applying the law rather then the evil legislature breaking it. Kudo to the Judge who applied the law and justice. I cannot wait to we vote the bought off legislture who bends over for big business and then in turn rapes the citizens.

 Maria Jose

Bravo to the Judge!!! How long can the legislature violate the law and get away with it? Finally a Judge who applies the LAW. I for one am tired of Rick Scott bashing the poor State workers. They are a dedicated bunch who make far less then people in the private sector. Rick Scott has started class warefare and I want no part of it.

City Worker

Finally a win for the working people and a judge with some common sense! Let's hope the rest of the state is watching... Too many city governments have done the exact same thing and it is NOT right!!! Happy for the employees who will get back what they deserve.

Nancy Smith

Today's Orlando Sentinel article on the millions of earmarks in the current budget gives a picture of where they can get the money they took unlawfully.


Before all you idiots start talking about tax payers losing...all public employees are tax payers.

How in the world is this wrong? Government employees make far less than their private counterparts.

Second, judges do not "work" for the government!!! They interpret law created by the legislation. Elect some more fiscally responsible managers into state government! Don't blame the cops, teachers, and other public workers.


ear marks, how farmers id their pigs by notching their ears? How fitting...


The government employee judge was making the same 3% contribution into her pension as her fellow government employees. She now reaps a retroactive 3% raise with her decision. Can anyone say conflict of interest?


"Budget means state workers won't get pay raise for sixth straight year" - http://www.flapolitics.com/

$1.00 in 2006 is the equivalent of $1.12 today (due to inflation). Since state workers have not had a raise in six years, they are now receiving only $1.00 for every $1.12 they should be getting just to keep up with inflation. This means that during the past six years, state workers have already taken a pay CUT of 100 * (1 - ($1.00 / $1.12)) = 10.7%!!!


Billy Budd

Rick Scott Medicare thief and grifter was once again trying to commit fraud on the workers. Rick Scott5 and the Republican party are a gang of leeches and thiefs who want to use the workers as slave labor to give tax cuts tio the corporations and to Ricks cronies


Pedro: How do the taxpayers get screwed? Dade County pays a teacher's salary (and police/fire/corrections, etc.) based on collective bargaining. That salary is earned no different than the worker at McDonald's or IBM earns his/her salary. The State then comes in and takes 3% of the TAKE HOME salary from those workers to make up for tax cuts for corporations. How does this "screw" taxpayers? Are government workers NOT taxpayers too? Or perhaps you are one of those who believe, mistakenly, that all government workers just sit around on their butts and collect a paycheck. If so, work a year in corrections, or do some ride alongs with MDPD or shadow MDFD. Or, better yet, get your four year degree and teach in one of our public schools for a year. THEN you'll know the truth.

Douglas Michie Johnson

Mike Haridopolos has no clue what true judicial activism is. I suggest he read some of the Jim Crow opinions out of the deep south in the fifties and sixties. This judge simply followed the law as laid down by the Florida Supreme Court over thirty years ago. Ruling in favor of Pink Slip Rick and the legislative sychophants would have been "judicial activism."

Brian Russel

This is a strange interpretation of the 1981 ruling and will likelu be overturned on appeal.

J. M.

Judge Jackie Fulford is a Republican, appointed by Governor Crist. This law, that the GOP forced down the throats of State Workers was Unconstitutional from day one and the GOP knew it. They were playing games, stoking the flames, trying to win elections, nothing more. NO honest Conservative would rule this law Constitutional. The TRUE Conservatives believe in the inviolability of a "contract". The State was unable to demonstrate that the FRS is any trouble and they TOOK those monies from the workers and placed them into the General Fund to balance the budget. they NEVER earmarked it for the FRS. Despite the rhetoric, the state, the GOP and Governor Scott KNEW the FRS was solid. they played a "shell game" and lost.

Charlie Zale

I do not understand how people like Herbie or Whasup can remain so blind to our legislators. After refusing to give state employees a raise for 6 years the senate raise the health insurance premiums, with the exception of their own premiums. By the way the senate and house pay a minimal amount for the same state health insurance the rest of state employees pay approx. 5 times the amount they do. J.D. Alexander, Mike Haridopolous, John Thrasher and Don Gaetz are more interested in serving cororate interest and their personal interest than serving the citizens of Florida. Kudos to Judge Fulford. I wish she would rin for office.

R. McLaughlin

Perhaps Florida's legislature would rather have the alternative solution to the fairness problem...let all the state employees that want to be treated fairly move to a state that will treat them fairly. Then Florida can let some more Cubans in to do the slave work!

Maria Fialkov

Billy Budd and moms2398...you ar both on target! The biggest Medicaid fraud in US history was committed by Rick Scott...who pleaded the fifth 75 times during those hearings...now he's crawled back out from under his rock and is trying to defraud Florida! We can't let him!! Kudos to Judge Fulford! The Tea Party folks seem to be drinking Jim Jones' Kool Aid.. Do you really have any idea what DICK Scott and his cronies are planning to do to Florida??? G-d save us all!

Charlie Zale

Everyone who voted for Rick Scott was aware of the medicaid fraud, but they voted for him anyway. Now everyone is acting surprised that he is doing the things he is doing. I am not at all surprised. I did not vote for him. What we all need to remember is that the Senate has pulled just as much if not more robbery then the Governor. If it were not for the couple of moral people left like Mike Fasano we would really be in a bad situation. We need to vote out the incumbents with the exception of Fasano and Evers and a few others. It is time that the voters take back control of our government and vote out the thieves and corporate prostitutes.


This was clearly a selective tax applied to state workers. According to the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment, no state may "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The money earned by public employees is bargained and earnd according to an agreed upon contract; therefore, public employees have a property right to their salary which may not be abridged by the state without corresponding bargaining. We are a nation of laws, and the fourteenth amendment is one of the most important laws relating to rights of citizens. I am not willing to forgo those rights without the chance to bargain.

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