Friday, April 27, 2007
LACBA Rallies Support for Federal Judges’ Pay Raise
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles County Bar Association is rallying its affiliate organizations to support a pay raise for federal judicial officers, LACBA President-Elect Gretchen M. Nelson told the MetNews yesterday.
The association is in the process of sending out copies of an April 17 letter it submitted to the House Subcommittee on the Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, in which it voiced “strong support” for increased federal judicial compensation, Nelson said.
“The idea would be to inform the affiliates of the issue to make sure that they’re aware of it, and to request their support for what is an issue that is crying out for change,” she explained. “This is something that has certainly been on LACBA’s radar screen for some time, and it’s only getting worse.”
LACBA will be urging its affiliates will to write similar letters of support to Rep. Howard L. Berman—a San Fernando Valley Democrat who chairs the subcommittee—as well as Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, who chairs the Senate judiciary committee, Nelson added.
The April 17 letter, addressed to Berman underscored points made by Chief Justice John Roberts in his 2006 year-end report on the federal judiciary. Roberts’ report, replete with numerical data, focused exclusively on Congress’ failure to raise judicial pay and stated that the compensation issue had reached the level of a “constitutional crisis” threatening to undermine the strength and independence of the federal judiciary.
Echoing the report, LACBA’s letter expressed chagrin at the fact that average wages for workers in the U.S. have risen 17.8 percent since 1969, while federal judicial pay has declined 23.9 percent after inflation over the same time period.
“Federal district court judges, each of whom were successful and accomplished lawyers for years before becoming judges, now earn far less than recent law school graduates earn in their first year of practice,” it stated.
The letter not only incorporated statistics reported by Roberts, but also noted that increases in criminal and immigration case filings in the Central District of California—encompassing Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties—have caused district and magistrate judges’ workloads to “increase exponentially” while their salaries have stagnated. That was in addition to the general caseload increase at a national level following Congress’ recent expansion of federal court jurisdiction, LACBA wrote.
The organization also voiced concerns about diversity:
“Equal justice under the law is not an option—it is a mandate that governs our judicial system. A federal bench that is populated only by those who have sufficient private resources (beyond their private salary) to support their families is not a diverse bench.”
LACBA agreed with the chief justice that judicial salary limitations would cause federal bench officers to return to the private sector, creating the impression that federal judicial jobs are used as a “stepping stone” to lucrative positions in private practice. Such departures from the bench—there have been 38 in the last six years, with 17 in the last two—will jeopardize the quality, independence, and public image of the federal courts, the association maintained.
Nelson said the current move to bring federal judges’ salaries “up to par” with those of other legal professionals and federal employees came to LACBA’s attention last month. The organization’s stance is not new, she noted, saying it weighed in on the topic several years ago as part of a similar but unsuccessful effort to pressure Congress to act.
At a LACBA board meeting Wednesday, Nelson urged the members to reach out to their corporate clients and employers, saying it was important to mobilize the support of federal court litigants as well as attorneys and bar organizations.
Sixty major corporations have already urged Congressional action in line with Roberts’ challenge, including Citigroup, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, General Motors, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, Pfizer and Time Warner.
On April 19, Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia also called for lawmakers to act at a hearing before the House courts subcommittee.
A bipartisan group of former Congress members, including former Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican who once chaired the House Judiciary Committee, yesterday said it intended to call for an end to Congress’ practice of linking the salaries of federal judges to those of lawmakers.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company