Judicial Pay Raises Long Overdue

Several years ago, I was approached about the prospect of becoming a federal judge. I confess, it appealed to me, at least for a couple of months. But then I realized that one consequence of appointment to this lifetime position would be the requirement that I behave like a judge. That’s more of a sacrifice than I want to make, even for the sake of job security. Hell-raising is fun.

We demand a lot of judges. We expect them not just to be fair and impartial, but even to avoid the mere appearance of impropriety. I’ve had friends become judges. At once, they are isolated, wary of talking about anything that might call into question their probity. Don the robe, and learn to live in the the shadows. No, thanks.

Why do people become judges?

I suspect that most do so because of some noble aspiration. They want to do justice, or make a difference in the world. Perhaps that explains why so few judges, at least so few federal judges, have significant experience as trial lawyers. Go to court often enough and you quickly learn that Clarence Darrow had it right: “There is no such thing as justice in or out of court.” 

Judges are like the fellows who control the gates at a rodeo cattle-chute, or, to chose a metaphor more consonant with historic New England, they are like the lonely sentinels at a lighthouse, keeping track of all that can collide in the dark of night. It’s wild world; judges try to bring order to chaos.
Is job security the appeal of a judgeship? I confess that a lifetime appointment sounds good. Imagine being told you could work for the rest of your life, secure in the knowledge that, unless there is either a global apocalypse or root and branch social revolution, you will hold your job, in sickness and health, until the day the mortician declares you unfit to serve?

Although state judges don’t sit for life, and, frankly, I think it is a shame that they do not, there’s still more security in he state system than most of us know: Upon confirmation to serve, a state-court judge serves an eight-year term. Thereafter, they must be are subject to a retention hearing by the General Assembly every eight years. They vest in the state’s generous pension system after ten years of state service.

Is it the money that attracts folks to the bench?

I hope not. There ought to be a rule against appointing a person to a judge if they will make more money as a jurist than they did as a lawyer: Hustle first, meditate later.

Although judicial salaries are far in excess of the median family income in the United States, they lag behind what even a nominally competent lawyer can make after a decade or two of perfecting their craft. In Connecticut, a state judge currently earns about about $147,000 per year; a state Supreme Court justice earns a shade more than $175,000 annually. Federal judges do a little better: A District Court judge earns $174,000; a spot on the Supreme Court fetches about $214,000.

The pay of neither state nor federal judges has risen in recent years. The result is low morale and departure from the bench of jurists who simply tire of being taken for granted. In hard economic times, judges don’t want to be be perceived as violating the hog rule. It’s hard to ask for a raise when you are making multiples of the median family income in the United States, a sum of $49,103, according to U.S. Census Bureau. 

Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase Rogers recently formally requested an increase in judicial salaries. She wants the salary of all judges to jump to $163,416 come July, 2013. The salaries would peak at $191,890 in 2017. Her campaign for increased salaries comes on the heels of a significant ruling in the District of Columbia Circuit Court, one of the nation’s most powerful appellate courts, ruling that federal judicial salaries are too low.

I’m no fan of government, but, by any standard, the judicial branches of both state and federal governments are a bargain. The entire budget for the Judicial Branch is estimated to be 2.7 percent of the state’s budget in 2013, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis. On the federal level, the judiciary accounts for less than one percent of the federal budget. 

So count me a supporter of raises for judges. I think you should support the raises, too. The next time you need a dispute resolved by means other than violence, you’ll want a well-staffed and competent court to hear your case. Let’s get the justice we deserve. I don’t want discount justice. 

Hell, raise the salary high enough, and I just might throw my hat into the ring.

“All rise,” you say? I might just get used to that -- when Hell freezes over.
Reprinted courtesy of the Journal Register Company.


Conundrums Abound In Kennebunk Vice Case

Offer to pay a man cold hard cash to kill someone and you’ve struck a deal. But is it a contract? Suppose you pay your killer but he never performs. Do you get your money back?

The answer is a simple “no.” Although the agreement looks like a contract, it’s objective, the unlawful killing of another, is repugnant to the law. The agreement is, as lawyers like to say, against public policy. Hence it is unenforceable.

A contract, then, is simply a promise the law will enforce. The law chooses not to enforce contractual terms for illegal acts. 

Now change the topic. Suppose you dim the lights, turn on some romantic music, uncork a bottle of wine, and settle in for an evening with a lover. Once things turn erotic, you flick the secret switch of a video recording device, and, without the consent of your partner, you tape your lovemaking.

That will get you in trouble in most states. Publicizing the videotape could get you sued civilly for invasion of privacy by broadcasting a private moment. You might also face criminal charges for voyeurism. We value intimacy and expectation of privacy that surrounds it.

But suppose your intimate moments are with a man or woman to whom you have offered payment in exchange for your libidinal romp? In other words, suppose your partner is a prostitute. Is it still illegal to tape the evening’s festivities? Is it illegal for the prostitute to tape you without your consent?

Prostitution is every bit as illegal as murder in almost every jurisdiction in the country. Parties to a murder-for-hire contract shed the right to have the terms of their agreement enforced in court because their conduct is illegal. If it is illegal to patronize a prostitute, and to serve as a prostitute, do the parties also shed the right to cry fowl in civil court over what takes place when the lights are dimmed? What state interest is served in prosecuting a prostitute who tapes her Johns?

This issue will be tested soon in Kennebunk, Maine, where 29-year-old Alexis Wright stands charged with prostitution and with secretly taping her customers. The State of Maine intends not just to prosecute Ms. Wright; it is also in the process of issuing criminal summons against her Johns. Among the charges Ms. Wright faces is violating her customers’ right to privacy.

A lawyer for several of Ms. Wright’s Johns ran to court last week to try to prevent the State of Maine from publicizing the names of her clients. The Maine Supreme Court is expected to rule on the motion to keep those names secret as soon as this week. The claim that these potential defendants have a right to special treatment as defendants is, frankly, threadbare. If they’ve broken the law, even a foolish law, such as that making prostitution a crime, then they’re names will be made public just as the name of every other person accused of a crime will be. There is no randy fool exception to the rules of court.

Ms. Wright is in the eye of a storm right now. She’s been accused of crimes, including tax evasion. She’s apparently created a video library of the leisure class playing naughty behind closed doors. She has no choice now but to fight back. 

She should challenge whether Maine residents really believe there ought to be a law against prostitution. It’s a silly offense, really. Sex is one of the few recession proof trades in a struggling economy. We use the promise of sex without consequences to sell virtually everything. If you doubt it, turn on the television and watch the ads. Ms. Wright’s real crime might be that she is a little to honest and direct about what she is doing.

Her next line of defense should be to challenge whether charges that she invaded the privacy of her customers are legally sustainable. Didn’t the men who visited her fitness studio disrobe voluntarily, and while themselves engaged in illegal conduct? Aren’t they in a position that looks very similar to that of the man who pays for a murder but doesn’t get the satisfaction of seeing the job done?

Of course, there are differences between murder and prostitution. We say the murder is malum in se, an act bad in itself. But if prostitution is not bad in itself, then what is it, a mere regulatory offense? I doubt prosecutors are willing to concede that.

Conundrums abound in Ms. Wright’s case. I hope she will be clever enough to exploit them. 




About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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