Raising the Bar

We’ve previously covered the disparity in pay between judges and private lawyers, and instances where judges are leaving the bench for the same reason. Now, a new report on judicial pay from the Texas Judicial Compensation Commission and a class-action lawsuit over federal judges’ pay are putting an even brighter spotlight on the troubling discrepancy in what we pay our judges to uphold the law and the money earned by the attorneys who practice before them.

The Commission report released in late November estimates that a Texas lawyer who works full time makes approximately $153,000 on average, or $1,000 more than the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court and the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The Commission recommends a 21.1 to 21.5 percent across-the-board pay raise for Texas judges. Former Supreme Court Justice Dale Wainwright told Texas Lawyer newspaper that his decision to leave the court in September was directly related to financial considerations. “The difference between what [judges] are making in the public sector and what they could be making in the private sector can be several million dollars every few years,” he told a reporter.

While Texas state district judges are facing their own pay woes, a group of federal jurists led by Federal Judge Royal Ferguson of Dallas is attempting to secure class certification for a lawsuit over Congress’ repeated denials of cost-of-living increases for those presiding over the nation’s federal courts. According to the judges’ complaint, more than 1,000 federal judges are owed cost-of-living increases that have been given to other federal employees. 

Unlike federal judges, members of Congress – who are solely responsible for setting the salaries of federal judges – have given themselves regular pay raises since 1991. Given that their constituents express more “trust and confidence” in the judicial branch than the legislative branch by a 2 to 1 margin, it’s time our nation’s hard-working judges got a well-deserved raise. 

Who knows? Maybe Congress, the least trusted branch of government, could raise its 12% approval rating by strengthening our most trusted branch of government.  


Posted: 1/4/2013 12:00:00 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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About This Blog

Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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