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I-Team: State Employees Given Months Of Vacation Time

BOSTON (CBS) -- How much vacation will you get this year? Two weeks? One week? None at all?

How would you like a job that gives you almost four months off with pay? Believe it or not, the I-Team has found state employees getting just that.

France is the home of the endless vacation, the gold standard when it comes to paid time off from work. "We are known as having one of the most generous social systems in the world," says Christophe Guilhou, the French Consul General in Boston. "We're not far from, let's say, eight weeks per year."

Massachusetts isn't France, but the I-Team discovered assistant clerks in courthouses all across the Commonwealth have an even better deal than the French when it comes to time off with pay. "I'm not suggesting that this is not an excellent employment opportunity," says Daniel Hogan, clerk of the Boston Municipal Court and president of the state Association of Magistrates and Assistant Clerks.

WBZ-TV's Kathy Curran reports.

There are 441 assistant clerks across the state and if you add up vacation, sick days, personal days and holidays, 223 of them get 76 days, or nearly four months off.

Most of the remaining clerks, 146, get 61 days, or slightly more that three months off.

Even the French consul general is surprised. "If you compare it to France, where you have a quite generous social system, I think it goes beyond the French system," Guilhou says.

Back in the summer, the I-Team caught one of those assistant court clerks, since-retired Stephen Donovan, taking even more time off on the taxpayers' dime.

We recorded Donovan with our hidden cameras taking long lunches at a downtown Boston bar, downing drink after drink while court was in session.

Donovan was paid $84,869 a year, which is the salary for most assistant clerks.

"It's just wrong," says Barbara Anderson, co-founder of Citizens for Limited Taxation. "It's just wrong for the system to be giving that kind of pay and perks and that kind of time off."

"If you had everyone working at full capacity you could have a much smaller payroll and you could save a lot of money," Anderson adds. "But that's not what the system's for. The system is for those employees to have three and four months off."

Benefits for assistant clerks are set by the state legislature. The clerks handle the administrative work of the courts, conducting arraignments and bail hearings, issuing arrest warrants, and presiding over small claims court.

"These people are entitled to the time that they accumulate and they're entitled to take a vacation with their family," says Hogan, who heads the association which represents the assistant clerks.

Hogan claims reducing the clerks' time off with pay would not increase efficiency in the courts.

"I understand the thought process of the citizens," Hogan says. "They look at public employees in general and say that some of the benefits that they receive are excessive.

"However, I do believe that in the case of an assistant clerk, the responsibilities that clerks and assistant clerks take on, on a daily basis, the pay and the benefits are commensurate."

When we asked Guilhou what French workers would think of the system in the Massachusetts courts, he laughed. "I prefer them not to know about the system," he says.

Someone who should know a lot about the personnel system in the state courts is retiring Chief Justice Margaret Marshall.

Marshall told the I-Team in July that she is convinced there is nothing left to cut when it comes to the court's payroll.

The chief administrator of the trial court, Robert Mulligan, declined the I-Team's request for an interview.

Mulligan's spokeswoman later released a statement claiming the number of days off for the clerks is consistent with what is given to management employees in the state's executive branch.

But figures provided by the governor's office show that is not true. State managers get between two and four weeks less each year in time off with pay.

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