U.S. Judge Quits Over Inadequate Pay

A federal judge’s decision to quit the bench for private practice, due to his concern over inadequate pay, has sparked a new wave of debate about the adequacy of judicial salaries.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson said the salary wasn’t enough to support his wife and seven children, the L.A. Now blog of the Los Angeles Times reported. “The costs associated with raising our family are increasing significantly, while our salary remains stagnant and, in terms of its purchasing power, is actually declining,” Larson said in a statement.

He was an appointee of President George W. Bush. He has been a district judge based in Riverside, California for 3 1/2 years and was a federal magistrate judge for six years before that.

A federal district judge is paid $169,300, according to a Reuters news story, and a first-year associate at a large firm in a big city can pull down roughly that sum in his first year.

Chief Justice John Roberts said in his 2008 annual report on the U.S. judiciary that “Congress must provide judicial compensation that keeps pace with inflation.” He added, “The judiciary’s needs cannot be postponed indefinitely without damaging its fabric.”

Above the Law, which calls itself a legal tabloid, published an article headlined, “Judge Stephen G. Larson Resigns Because Judges are Underpaid (But Are They Really?)”

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog asked readers their opinion and added,

“Of course, it’s unreasonable, in all likelihood, to expect that federal judges should make what the average BigLaw partner makes. But it also strikes me as unfortunate that the federal bench should lose Larson, who presided over the recent dispute between Mattel and MGA Entertainment over the rights to the Bratz doll (and, incidentally, a judge I’ve heard to be exceptionally hard-working) over financial issues.”

Ever since 1989, when congressional and judicial salaries were linked, judges have seen their real pay drop sharply, when compared with the rate of inflation. You can learn more from Justice at Stake’s federal judiciary pay page.

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