State Senate leader taps ‘one of my dearest friends’ for board appointment that pays $128,000

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A committee led by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg appointed one of the Democrat’s closest friends to a $128,000-a-year job on a board that has long been criticized as a plum position for termed-out lawmakers.

Sacramento attorney John Adkisson was sworn in Tuesday to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, which oversees unemployment and disability disputes in the state.

Adkisson has been paid $300,000 a year for two state government roles since 2009: $150,000 as special counsel to the Senate and Legislative Counsel; and $150,000 as director of the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes, an office that was created at Steinberg’s urging.

Steinberg, who will be termed out of office later this year, told The Sacramento Bee in 2009 that his former law school classmate was “one of my dearest friends.”

“They are, but that takes nothing away from the fact that he’s extremely qualified,” Steinberg spokesman Mark Hedlund said Tuesday.

Adkisson’s law practice since 1984 has had an emphasis on employment law. He has been a professional arbitrator and mediator, and he owned and operated a firm that produced and distributed employment-training materials and provided employee training.

“He didn’t just pluck me out of a group of friends. This is the kind of work I’ve been doing all along,” Adkisson said in a telephone interview. Adkisson noted he is taking a pay cut to fill the board position, which is full-time even though the board meets monthly.

The appointment, made last week by the Senate Rules Committee, fills a vacancy and will last for one year. Adkisson said he has been doing contract work for the Senate Rules Committee for 20 years, since before Steinberg was elected to the Legislature.

Adkisson ran Steinberg’s first campaign for Sacramento City Council in 1992.

Also serving on the five-member Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board are former Assemblyman Michael Allen, former state Sen. Roy Ashburn and Robert Dresser, the chairman. The board has one vacancy.

Gov. Jerry Brown tried to eliminate what was then a seven-member board in 2011, when a spokesman said its demise would be both a practical and symbolic response to what was then a $15.4 billion budget deficit.

A new version of the board lives on, meeting once a month to grant or deny unemployment insurance benefit appeals that are first considered by the state Employment Development Department and an administrative law judge.

Adkisson said board members are busy reviewing dozens of cases every day, aside from their monthly meetings.

“I’m going to be coming in every day and working full time,” he said. “There’s some days you have 50 cases you have to look at.”

Brown is no longer trying to eliminate the board, but the budget he released last week proposes to reduce its budget by $9.5 million while eliminating 77 jobs and closing three regional offices. That would leave the board supervising 586 employees and a $68 million budget.

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