Sunday, March 27, 2011

Florida's War On The Judiciary

There's a proposal in the Florida Legislature to lower judicial pay by 8%. Combined with pension reductions, judges are looking at about a 20% reduction in compensation.

The logic behind the 8%?

State Representative Richard Glorioso offered no justification for the salary cut proposal other than a general comment that they had to cut somewhere

Cuts to other elected officials? None.

There is an all out war on the judiciary in Florida, except you can't say that to the legislature, because it offends them - that someone would figure this out.

Take, for example, the proposal to pay incentive bonuses to judges that close cases efficiently.

But let's go back to the pay cut.

Judges in Florida make about $142,000 a year.

That's a lot, if you make less than that amount. It's paltry, if you consider that a first-year associate at BigLaw can make $160,000.

I think judges should make $250,000 a year.

Hold the "kiss-ass" comments.

Your philosophy about judicial pay comes from how you perceive who should become judges.

In Florida, the list of qualifications are as follows:

1. Lawyer in good standing for past 5 years.

This list of qualifications above, grants a lawyer the right to preside over a DUI case, or a death penalty case (assuming the judge attends a course to become qualified to do death cases.)

There's a proposal to up it to 10 years, which I support.

In Florida you can become a judge two ways - appointment or election.

I believe in appointments. Most voters have no idea who to vote for (as judicial candidates cannot discuss issues that may come before them), and some voters are resentful that they are asked to select candidates about which they know nothing.

Yes, the appointment process is political, but I also believe in a merit retention process that is meaningful.

Most importantly, I believe the position of judge should be reserved for those who have had successful careers as a lawyer. I don't mean they've made a lot of money, I believe the position of judge is for those who have "been there, done that."
But let's get back to the pay issue.

Judges are looking at a possible pay cut of eleven grand. That's a lot. Forget about no raises, taking away money is a whole other concept.

There's a buzz that judges will resign. They should.

While becoming a judge is not a path to wealth, Florida's assault on the judiciary is a path to attracting either the independently wealthy, or the inexperienced who see $142,000 as a significant pay increase. Which judge do you want?

There are those that say we shouldn't compare private and public sector wages, but the reality is that a 20 year lawyer sitting on the bench should not be making less than a first year associate.

When I mention the $250,000 number for judicial pay, I hear that it would cause a feeding frenzy. The question becomes - what do you want on the bench? Most lawyers I speak to want experienced lawyers with perception and experience. When we have a society where those lawyers won't consider becoming a judge, we wind up with those we find ourselves complaining about - career government lawyers with no concept of private practice, and inexperience.

Sure, there are career prosecutors that have become great judges, and inexperienced lawyers who have done the same, but the fact remains that attracting quality is not the same as being happy with luck. We have few judges who were successful lawyers and in the middle of their careers decided to seek the bench. Why is that? The answer is money. While we want more of these lawyers to become judges, we are unwilling to attract them.

Want good judges, attract good lawyers. It's really that simple.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter