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Florida Bar leads initiative to increase pay for federal judges.

The Florida Bar led a successful effort to move the American Bar Association to lobby Congress in support of Chief Justice John Roberts' call to substantially increase federal judges' salaries.

Echoing Roberts' statement to Congress before the recent ABA House of Delegates meeting in Miami, Florida Bar President Hank Coxe called current federal district court judges' pay a "constitutional crisis."

Joined by seven other state bars and four national legal groups, Florida's recommendation holds that current judicial salaries have not kept pace with increases in average American workers' wages. Coxe said the situation is causing experienced judges to leave the bench and making it difficult to attract new ones, which threatens to undermine the strength and independence of the federal judiciary.

"The issue of judicial pay has grown steadily worse over the past 35-plus years," Coxe said. "From 1969 through 2006, real pay for federal judges declined approximately 25 percent. Increasing judicial pay will allow the federal judiciary to continue to attract and retain the highest quality lawyers."

Coxe also said that an important factor to consider is where judges--particularly trial judges--come from. In the Eisenhower Administration, roughly 65 percent came from the practicing bar, with 35 percent from the public sector. Today the numbers are almost reversed with 60 percent from the public sector and less that 40 percent from private practice.

Citing Chief Justice Roberts' 2006 year-end report and a National Commission on Public Service's (NCPS) study from 2003, the ABA will urge Congress to take immediate action to rectify the situation.

"Fair compensation for judges is essential to ensure that we have a qualified judiciary, an independent judiciary, a judiciary that commands public respect," said Mark H. Alcott, president of the New York State Bar Association in support of the resolution. "When we allow judicial salaries to languish as they have we jeopardize all of our efforts to preserve fair and impartial courts."

"The Pennsylvania Bar was proud to partner with The Florida Bar to support an increase in pay for our federal judges. Preserving a strong and independent judiciary through adequate judicial compensation is essential to a fair and impartial justice system. This resolution demonstrates the organized bar standing as one to protect and defend the constitutional principles of lifetime tenure and no reduction in pay for the federal bench," said Andrew F. Susko, president-elect of the Pennsylvania Bar.

Kim Askew of the State Bar of Texas, another resolution sponsor, added that "A substantial pay raise for federal judges is long overdue. While it is an honor to serve on the federal bench, federal judges make many sacrifices in serving. Our nation will continue to attract and retain the best lawyers on the federal bench only if we adequately pay judges for the important work they do."

According to the NCPS, it has been 16 years since the last judicial pay raise took effect. Since that time average American workers wages, adjusted for inflation, increased 18.5 percent while federal judges' inflation-adjusted pay decreased by 15.1 percent.

The last comprehensive review of judicial salaries was in 1989 when Congress decided that pay should be annually adjusted to keep pace with inflation and mirror private-sector wages. "Congress has simply refused to make good on its expressed goal, and has not even provided cost-of-living increases," said former Federal Reserve Chair Paul A. Volcker, who chaired the NPCS when the report was issued.

The Roberts' report indicates that today federal judges are paid substantially less--about half--what the deans and senior law professors at top law schools are paid and that beginning lawyers in some cities are likely to earn more in their first year than most experienced federal district judges.

Federal district court judges are paid $165,200 annually; appellate court judges make $175,100; associate justices of the Supreme Court earn $203,000; the chief justice gets $212,100.

Karen Redmond, of the Office of Public Affairs of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, pointed out that federal judges' pay is the same, regardless of whether the judge is new on the job or has 26 years experience.

"In more than three decades as a judge, have not seen my colleagues in the judiciary so dispirited as at the present time," Justice Anthony Kennedy told the Senate Commitee on the Judiciary February 14. "The blunt fact is that the past congressional policy with respect to judicial salaries has been one of neglect. As a consequence, the nation is in danger of having a judiciary that is no longer considered one of the leading judiciaries in the world."

Roberts said federal judges willingly make a number of sacrifices as part of judicial life, accepting difficult work, public criticism, and threats to personal safety.

"They do not expect to receive salaries commensurate with what they could easily earn in private practice," the chief justice said. "They can rightly expect, however, to be treated more fairly than they have been."

Coxe said he is hopeful that Congress will respond immediately.

Sponsors of the recommendation included: The Florida Bar, Pennsylvania Bar Association, ABA Section of Litigation, ABA Judicial Division, Louisiana State Bar Association; ABA Tort, Trial and Insurance Practice Section; State Bar of Texas, Illinois State Bar Association, Iowa State Bar Association, Pennsylvania Bar Association, Nebraska State Bar Association, and ABA General Practice Solo and Small Firm Division.
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Publication:Florida Bar News
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Previous Article:YLD symposium explores the ins and outs of lobbying.
Next Article:Legislative action.

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