Low judicial pay is a topic of complaint from Chief Justice John Roberts on down.
But a New York state court judge got himself censured for arguing in mass e-mails to his peers that refusing to take certain kinds of cases is a “tactic” and “weapon” judges could use to get “those clowns” in Albany to vote for a pay raise.
Judge Larry M. Himelein also suggested that if the law firm state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (pictured) is associated with, Weitz & Luxenberg, could not get a court date, things would change.
“When Shelley’s firm can’t get a divorce heard or will probated or a trial date, see if that doesn’t spur some action,” he wrote.
NYT: Justices of the Supreme Court, the state’s highest-level trial court, earn $136,700 a year. County judges earn a minimum of $119,800. Over the last few years, the Legislature has failed on several occasions to raise judicial pay. With the state’s current fiscal problems, the prospects for a raise have not grown any brighter.
The Court of Appeals case has raised a series of awkward questions for the state government, including whether the Court of Appeals would have the power to order another branch of government to increase judicial salaries if it chose to, and how it could enforce such a ruling.
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The censure in this case was handed down by New York state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, but the judicial pay debate is certainly not limited to states.
California federal judge Stephen Larson stepped down in September, saying he could not support his wife and children on his judicial salary.
At the time of Larson’s resignation, Volokh pointed out that district court judges make $169,300 and circuit court judges bring in $179,500, and that judicial appointments also bring in invaluable perks including prestige, shorter worker hours, lifetime job security, and generous pensions.
Almost no one argues that $170,000 is not a good salary in general, it is just that the salaries of big firm associates — partner pay is not even in the same ballpark — quickly surpass federal judges’ salaries and that, therefore, attracting talent — and keeping it — is increasingly difficult. (Volokh’s counter: between 1999 and 2005, the judicial attrition rate was only 0.3%.)
The debate of pros and cons will continue, but for now, Judge Himelein will have to consider his email behaviour — the only punishment more severe for judges than censure is removal.
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