The issue of judicial compensation is raised dramatically by recent news stories about lawyers whose hourly billing rates had attained $1,000. We take no issue with that rate since it is determined in a free, open - and highly competitive - market. What concerns us is that compared to the rising cost of outside counsel, judges at both the federal and state levels are woefully underpaid.
We complain about the fairness of some decisions and the growing burden of litigation costs. Yet, we have not made raising the salaries of those who contribute most to making our judicial system fair and cost effective a priority. In May, we asked our readers to list the subjects to which we should devote editorial space. Improved judicial compensation ranked last - with only 7.5% of the corporate counsel readers feeling that it was a subject worthy of our attention. Yet, 25.5% wanted us to devote space to ADR and other techniques to reduce litigation cost and improve outcomes, while over 53% indicated that litigation was relevant to their work.
In his article on page 8 of this issue, Judge Hornby makes the case for higher salaries for the federal judiciary. Defense counsel organizations representing many corporate counsel leaders are speaking out. DRI- the Voice of the Defense Bar supports ABOTA's Resolution in Support of the Federal Judiciary which recommends that Congress increase funding for the federal judicial system and calls for an increase in federal judges' salaries. Patrick A. Long, President of DRI, pointed out that "While salaries in private practices are on the rise, the same cannot be said for the judges serving in some of the most important courts in the land. The fact that a first year associate at a law firm can make almost as much, and in some cases perhaps more than a federal trial judge, should be a wake up call that we need to take an immediate and focused look at federal judicial salaries." Urging Congress to remedy the present inequitable situation, DRI's President-Elect John H. Martin said, "The need to continually attract federal judges of the highest quality is of paramount importance. Judicial salaries must be substantially increased to keep up with competition in the private sector. Congress needs to act now." Barry Bauman, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Justice states "The strong concern of many of our Corporate and Associate members made this a top legislative priority for LCJ. They view the level of judicial salaries and the quality of the judiciary as linked."
The situation in New York State is dismal. Chief Judge Kaye of the New York Court of Appeals states "No words can capture the frustration and anger of the New York State judiciary, whose compensation is even far below the shameful federal levels, with no adjustments whatever for more than eight years. Unimaginable that New York State, with its heavy dockets, should be at the bottom rung among state and federal judiciaries! If anything could be more distressing than the failure of Albany to redress this injustice, it would be the response of your readers - more than half with an interest in litigation - that this is not a subject worthy of attention. What better way to reach their desired objectives of reduced litigation costs and improved outcomes than to assure that we attract and retain the very best, most experienced lawyers as judges? We desperately need your voice!"
New York State, which is vying with London to be the financial and dispute resolution capital of the world, is just one example of why state and federal legislators need to subordinate petty politics to the national interest in enhancing our country's global competitiveness.
Published September 1, 2007.