Judges Just Want Justice. And a Better Paycheck

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Is this all?Photo: iStockphoto

Ascending to a judgeship used to be a plush way for a lawyer to close out a career: It's a prestigious gig, the pay was decent, and the hours were excellent. Especially in New York, where the pay for a judge was the highest nationally in the seventies, at its relative peak. But a pay freeze on judges' salaries over the past twelve years, coupled with a sharp increase in partners' income at law firms, means more judges have decided to step down and return to a more lucrative private practice. Cash rules everything around them; they rule only within their jurisdiction and until someone appeals a decision to a higher court. Why bother?

One former judge who had thought he'd stay in his post until retirement explained to the Times why it seemed worth passing up the cash: “It’s very heady when you walk into a room and everybody rises, people laugh at your jokes.” Short of ascending to the dictatorship of a small country, where can you regularly get that kind of reception?

Some lawyers, though, framed the question of judges' salaries in nobler terms.

Emily Jane Goodman, a State Supreme Court justice in Manhattan, said the practical effect of her stalled pay was that she had to sell a summer home in the Hamptons and was having trouble paying for increasing fees on her two-bedroom apartment in the city.

“Here I am,” Justice Goodman said, “in a position where I’m working to achieve justice for other people and I don’t feel that I’m experiencing justice.”

Ah! Access to a summer home in the Hamptons. So that's what justice is.

Pay Frozen, More New York Judges Leave Bench [NYT]