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Federal Judge Resigns After 3 Years on Bench, Citing Low Judicial Salary:
Above the Law has the scoop about the resignation of District Judge Stephen Larson, a 44-year old Bush appointee out in California.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Judge Stephen Larson's Resignation Does Not Show that Federal Judges are Underpaid:
  2. Federal Judge Resigns After 3 Years on Bench, Citing Low Judicial Salary:
yankee (mail):
Sounds like a win for the federal bench.
9.17.2009 11:54pm
Steve:
7 kids, wow! He needs more than just a pay increase, he needs a job with longer hours.
9.18.2009 12:03am
Perseus (mail):
A yearly salary of $170,000 living in the Los Angeles area with 7 kids certainly isn't poor, but it ain't exactly living high on the hog either.
9.18.2009 12:13am
Mike& (mail):
The federal judiciary has a very low attrition rate. Yet rather than view the rare resignation as proof that judicial pay is at market rate, people use it to suggest that pay is too low.
9.18.2009 12:14am
Mark N. (www):
On the one hand, I think it's probably a good idea to pay judges salaries that are competitive relative to their qualifications and working hours. On the other hand, a populist part of me thinks that maybe the kind of person for whom $169,300 is insufficient remuneration for serving as federal judge is not the kind of person who should be a federal judge.
9.18.2009 12:15am
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :
I'll take his job for $170K. As will a lot of people far, far more qualified than I am (which isn't saying much).
9.18.2009 12:28am
OrinKerr:
I'll take his job for $170K. As will a lot of people far, far more qualified than I am (which isn't saying much).

I suppose we know our co-blogger Paul Cassell isn't one of them.
9.18.2009 12:30am
Sock Puppet:
Was he misled about the salary when he agreed to be a judge? When President Bush appointed him, he thought he was making a long-term investment in this man. If his intended-nominee had said, "By the way, Mr. President, I only intend to do this for two years, Bush almost certainly would not have nominated him. I have no sympathy for this guy. Zero.
9.18.2009 12:39am
Tim Nuccio (mail) (www):
I'll take his job right now.
9.18.2009 12:41am
santa monica (mail) (www):
What Sock Puppet said. Although, to be fair to Judge Larson, the article does not make it look like he is *asking* for any sympathy.

Most people think that $170 K (with an iron-clad promise of life-time employment) is a great deal, but there is nothing wrong with someone--especially one who is currently working there--later deciding that a career change is better for him, and/or for his family.

Judge L does not get any sympathy from me. But he does get my best wishes for challenging (and, in his case, more-lucrative) future employment.
9.18.2009 12:46am
Dave N (mail):
I'm a government attorney who makes a helluva lot less than $170k a year. I don't live in LA, which I know is more expensive to live in than where I live, but I still have no sympathy.
9.18.2009 12:48am
Guy:
If you want to be making millions, don't be a judge. Judges are paid plenty to make a comfortable living, Why are judicial resignations rare? Because it pays well enough, has probably the highest job security of any job imaginable, and commands great respect and a real sense of satisfaction from your work. If you're just looking to get rich, you probably shouldn't be a judge in the first place.

And... 7 kids? Someone please explain to this poor man what a condom is.
9.18.2009 1:03am
JPG:
Would it be improper to state the government should bail him out?
9.18.2009 1:31am
Putting Two and Two...:
Not to set the Red-Staters howling, but one might consider salaries based on local economies...
9.18.2009 2:09am
Oren:
Just part of the unnatural system of equalizing the currency between LA and Kansas.
9.18.2009 2:21am
Random Commenter:
Just another brick in the wall of evidence that judicial salaries are too low. Sure is hard to keep those jobs filled...


I hope the door doesn't hit him in the arse on the way out.
9.18.2009 2:28am
Passing through:
The "judges are underpaid" argument relies on a comparison between the judges' current salary and what they'd be making as partners at big firms or big-time corporate gigs.

Well, ok, what do partners make at big firms? I don't have the exact #'s handy, and it obviously varies a lot city to city. Let's conservatively say it's somewhere in the 500k range.

If that's true, then to rectify the problem, we wouldn't have to give the federal judges a moderate raise. We'd have to give them raises that were well over $250,000 each to fix the problem.

So while there may be enough political will out there to get the judges into the upper 180s or 190s (doubtful, but possible), getting them there still wouldn't put them in the same ballpark with Biglaw partners.

So unless John Roberts thinks he's going to push congress into giving all federal judges 250% pay raises, there is ALWAYS going to be this problem. And if there's always going to be this problem, what's the point of having the conversation? Moving them from 169k to 185 or 190 or whatever really won't come close to bridging the gap at issue.

And if such increases won't solve the identified problem, let's just save the money, and continue enjoying the fact that even with the current salary levels, we still have scores of over-qualified people who are literally lining up and begging for these jobs.
9.18.2009 2:40am
trotsky (mail):
The NY Times article cited at Abovethelaw states "There is no question that those salaries ... have dropped significantly in real terms in recent decades."

Are any decent data available to show what the inflation-adjusted salary history is? Or where judges have been as a share of the median income?

Is the problem that federal-government salaries are lagging? Or is it that high-dollar private-sector lawyers -- federal judges' peer group, more or less -- are making so darned much money these days than they used to?
9.18.2009 2:52am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
trotsky,

I know that the judiciary has been singled out in recent years in being denied a cost of living adjustment that supposedly all other civilian government employees receive. I don't know if that applies only to judges or also judicial staff etc.

I don't believe any government employee should be in the position out of a desire for the money the position pays though. Given the nature of the work I'm also not sure that we really want the most brilliant people around to fill those slots, brilliant people tend to have blind spots in strange areas. I'd prefer workman-like dedication personally.
9.18.2009 3:24am
MarkField (mail):
Judge Larson is an excellent judge and he´ll be missed. I live in LA and I do sympathize with him somewhat (though I´d be happy to take the job myself).

I remember finding some information on judicial salaries which I posted in a previous thread. I don´t remember the exact figures now, but salaries have declined a lot in relative terms since the 1960s. Part of the issue, of course, involves one´s self-image; if you´re a federal judge, you probably think you should be living in the same neighborhoods as at least some of the lawyers who appear in front of you. That´s not possible on current salaries.

I say this to explain rather than to justify.
9.18.2009 5:43am
Teller:
Disappointing that it appears he took the job as a resume builder. Two years?
9.18.2009 7:12am
Commentor (mail):
The article speaks of judges' salaries dropping in real terms, but surely that does not apply to Larson in any significant way, who has only been on the bench three years.

The disappointing part is that a President's appointed judges are part of what they see as their legacy. This guy lasted just long enough for the next guy to replace him.
9.18.2009 7:40am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Yeah, but I bet the health care benefits are amazing.
9.18.2009 7:41am
sk (mail):
No opinion on what the judge should do, whether he has too many kids, blah blah.

But be aware that your views of income are skewed. 170k really isn't that much, and isn't as much as it used to be. It is alot more than the average, of course, and probably more than you personally make. But keep in mind:

a journeyman engineer/scientist in government service can easily make 100K (not a super successful private industry scientist, not a management scientist in government service, not a small business owner scientist-just a guy who has not advanced, does not volunteer or take particularly complex projects-the engineer equivalent of the clerk at the post office). A journeyman engineer/scientist married to a government secretary can make almost as much as that judge. A journeyman married to a secretary living in a lower cost of living part of the country can be living better than that federal judge in California.

Most doctors make more than or equal to that judge (not all- starting pediatricians and general practice doctors don't, and doctors that work in low income communities may not-but most do).

Maybe that's appropriate-maybe two people working for the government should ALWAYS make more than one person working for the government (even if that one person is a federal judge...). Maybe a lawyer at the top of his profession should ALMOST ALWAYS make less than even doctors at the bottom of their profession.

It is a reasonable debate over how much a federal judge should make. But presuming that 170K is a ton of money, just because it is alot more than the national average ('170K is tons more than 45K-ergo the judge is greedy!') isn't really grasping the pay structure in place in this country.

Sk
9.18.2009 7:56am
Steve:
Hey, and I just realized, Van Jones is looking for a job!
9.18.2009 7:57am
JoelP:
I'd be kinda curious: how do the salaries of former judges who join firms compare to the salaries of attorneys of comparable age who switch firms?
9.18.2009 8:02am
BN (mail) (www):
Did his wife have sextuplets last year or something? If those 7 kids were out of the womb sometime before he took the judgeship then he really has no excuse.

Maybe they should require a finance class at law school. The idea that a powerful person like a Federal judge doesn't have enough common sense to write out a five year financial plan before he takes a job is a bit scary.
9.18.2009 8:26am
egd:
Starting salaries at large law firms appear to be approaching this level (although those are from '07, I can't find any comparable, by location, rates for '09).
9.18.2009 8:36am
JoshK (mail):
IMHO the among the most important pillars of society is a fair and accessible judiciary. I'd much rather pay up to have top judges and enough of them than to keep shoveling money at all of the various transit unions and whatnot.
9.18.2009 8:46am
tarheel:

Did his wife have sextuplets last year or something? If those 7 kids were out of the womb sometime before he took the judgeship then he really has no excuse.

Exactly. And this is not a new issue for the federal judiciary. Which all makes it patently obvious that either (1) he hates the job and just wants to leave or (2) he took it solely for the sure-thing law firm payoff that results from having the judgeship on your resume.
9.18.2009 8:50am
Mark Creatura:
How to set pay for public employment: (i) advertise a vacancy, with a proposed rate, (ii) if many high-quality applicants appear, lower the rate, (iii) if few high-quality applicants appear, increase the rate, and (iv) repeat as necessary.
Discuss standards for "many," "few" and "high-quality," but refrain from scholasticism.
This works for streetsweepers, ambulance drivers, teachers and letter-carriers, as well as for judges.
9.18.2009 9:08am
Bama 1L:
The "judges are underpaid" argument relies on a comparison between the judges' current salary and what they'd be making as partners at big firms or big-time corporate gigs.

Starting base salary for associates at large firms in big cities is $160,000. That means Biglaw associates who are barely trusted to find and summarize cases on Westlaw--let alone speak during a deposition or write a pleading without a more experienced lawyer editing it do death--are paid as much as federal judges. If Biglaw salaries resume their upward trend, very soon every single lawyer in high-stakes litigation will make more than the judge.
9.18.2009 9:13am
Public_Defender (mail):
It would be in my interest for federal judicial pay to increase. In effect, the salary of federal judges acts as a cap on the pay of other governmebt lawyers. Federal judges are well paid when compared to other government lawyers.

If federal judges deserve raises, thousands of other governmwnt lawyers deserve them more. If the miniscule turnover rate of federal judges justifies a raise, the high turnover rates or PD and prosecutor's offices justifies even bigger raises.

And I get really tired of federal judges whining about how hard it is to raise a family on $170K. Cassell and Larson seem to lack some very basic money management skills. It's unseemly to whine about your family's finances when you are the highest paid employee in the building.
9.18.2009 9:14am
ruuffles (mail) (www):

Someone please explain to this poor man what a condom is.

And you've got your answer right here

a 44-year old Bush appointee
9.18.2009 9:15am
Yuiop (mail):
Let's be clear: he works in Riverside, not LA. Big difference.
9.18.2009 9:15am
Aultimer:
There's no "problem" until the rate of judges leaving their jobs is equal to the rate of similarly paid lawyers leaving theirs. There are always ambitious (or greedy, if you prefer) folks in any job, and some will move up by moving out.

Also, commenting on the guy's family size makes my libertairan skin crawl. Live and let live, folks.
9.18.2009 9:19am
ruuffles (mail) (www):

Also, commenting on the guy's family size makes my libertairan skin crawl. Live and let live, folks.

Irony alert. Wouldn't a libertarian say: "He knew the pay of judges and had seven kids. It's up to him to find a job that will support them."?
9.18.2009 9:21am
ruuffles (mail) (www):
IE personal responsibility!!
9.18.2009 9:22am
Prof. S. (mail):

Starting salaries at large law firms appear to be approaching this level (although those are from '07, I can't find any comparable, by location, rates for '09).

Not any more. In fact, they're doing the opposite - they are retreating away from that level.

Besides, you can't do a straight dollar for dollar comparison. Just ask what percentage of federal judges are worried about being laid off or salary being cut by 10% arbitrarily, and ask an associate what percent chance they will have guaranteed pensions and incomes for life after they work at their firms for a certain number of years. There's a lot of other factors that play into all of this.
9.18.2009 9:33am
lawdawg (www):
The argument for judicial pay increase is not that $170k or whatever salary a judge makes is insufficient to live on, it's that judicial pay raises have not even kept up with inflation, while other federal employees' pay raises have surpassed inflation. For more info see this link.

And lay off the judge about his decision to resign. Why should he have to stay in a job if he doesn't feel like he can support his family in a manner he chooses? People make those kinds of decisions all the time with respect to their jobs, and why should a judge be any different? Judges have life tenure, not a life sentence.
9.18.2009 9:46am
Thilly Posther:
So the real question is the extent to which we should expect professionals to pay opportunity costs in the name of public service, right?
9.18.2009 9:52am
Gabriel McCall (mail):
There are two very different aspects of the question of "how much should we pay judges?" The first one is, is it possible to fill the positions and keep them filled at the current rate? If the answer is yes, then in a superficial economic sense the pay is high enough.

But that doesn't address the question of whether the people taking those jobs are the people who we most want to take those jobs. The more the job pays, the more attractive it will be to highly intelligent and competent people who can make a lot of money elsewhere. The question of how society should best allocate its scarce resource of genius is not something that can be answered with a spreadsheet: there's no way to know what the "right" price for something is in the absence of a free market, and a free market in judicial services is way out at the fringes of libertarian thought. That being the case, all we can do is look at the current officeholder and decide if we're happy with their performance or not.

I'm with Santa Monica above as far as my personal feeling on this situation goes: good luck to the guy, hope he finds what he's looking for. A bench appointment is not a suicide pact. But that in and of itself does not mean that the job is underpaid, just that it's underpaid relative to his personal situation and needs.
9.18.2009 9:52am
Upend, Coming:
Congressional Pay info cited below

We have this problem in NY State. Career court attorneys can get to a point where they earn more than their judges. Because the court attorneys have a union and the NY legislature has to OK judicial pay increases.

Rank-and-file members of the House and Senate including the little nothings from tiny districts in XYZ state make more than all Federal Judge. Yet the congressmen work teachers' calendars with time off for campaigning and fund-raising. Congressmen also get all the perks of free dinners and lobbyist meetings. Trips to foreign countries, tiny gifts, and pat-on-the-back benefits like below market rate mortgages.

There are 435 voting Representatives in the House. There are "866 authorized Article III judgeships - nine on the Supreme Court, 179 on the courts of appeals, and 678 for the district courts."



Rank-and-File Members:
The current salary (2009) for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year.

* Members are free to turn down pay increase and some choose to do so.
* In a complex system of calculations, administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, congressional pay rates also affect the salaries for federal judges and other senior government executives.
* During the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin considered proposing that elected government officials not be paid for their service. Other Founding Fathers, however, decided otherwise.
* From 1789 to 1855, members of Congress received only a per diem (daily payment) of $6.00 while in session, except for a period from December 1815 to March 1817, when they received $1,500 a year. Members began receiving an annual salary in 1855, when they were paid $3,000 per year.

Congress: Leadership Members' Salary (2009)
Leaders of the House and Senate are paid a higher salary than rank-and-file members.

Senate Leadership
Majority Party Leader - $193,400
Minority Party Leader - $193,400

House Leadership
Speaker of the House - $223,500
Majority Leader - $193,400
Minority Leader - $193,400

A cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increase takes effect annually unless Congress votes to not accept it.
9.18.2009 9:53am
Upend, Coming:
* I meant to write: federal trial judges. I even forgot to pluralize it.
9.18.2009 9:55am
ruuffles (mail) (www):

So the real question is the extent to which we should expect professionals to pay opportunity costs in the name of public service, right?

Something tells me that liberals like Reinhardt and Fletcher (B) wouldn't retire even if they were only paid per diems. Whereas we've seen the likes of McConnell and Luttig go private after being passed over for SC.
9.18.2009 9:55am
Houston Lawyer:
So if you get off on bossing people around, being a judge is worth the financial sacrifice.

While I can only guess at what is going to happen to starting salaries at big law firms, I do think that it is problematic that judges are paid the same as newbie attorneys. Now I believe that newbie attorneys are overpaid, but that is a different matter altogether and is being sorted out by the market as we speak.
9.18.2009 10:08am
SP:
I fail to see what the judge has done wrong here, or why it is the busy of the high and mighty here to criticize him, especially since most all of us have taken or left jobs for pay reasons.
9.18.2009 10:22am
FantasiaWHT:
Like I say about teachers, if you're in it for the money, you aren't there for the right reasons and we're better off without you.
9.18.2009 10:31am
ruuffles (mail) (www):

Like I say about teachers, if you're in it for the money, you aren't there for the right reasons and we're better off without you.

How does that apply to Cassell, Luttig, and McConnell?
9.18.2009 10:37am
Just Dropping By (mail):
I fail to see what the judge has done wrong here, or why it is the busy of the high and mighty here to criticize him, especially since most all of us have taken or left jobs for pay reasons.

I don't see anyone saying he did anything wrong other than whining about the pay being inadequate when he was obviously fully aware of what the compensation scheme was for federal judges when he took the job. I don't have any sympathy for someone who takes a job with a compensation scheme that is literally spelled out to the penny and then, without apparently any real change in circumstances, says that he's not being paid enough. It's not like Bush said something to him along the lines of "Sure the base salary's low, but you'll have the opportunity for merit increases after six months and our average year-end bonuses are above the industry mean" to induce him to take the job or something.
9.18.2009 10:42am
PaulD (mail):
I ran the judges salary in Los Angeles through a cost of living calculator to calculate a similar salary in Cincinnati, Ohio where I reside.
The equivalent Cincinnati salary would be $107,000, which, of course, would be a very low salary in Cincinnati for a lawyer with the credentials expected of a federal judge.
9.18.2009 10:46am
KLT:
I'll take his job for $170K. As will a lot of people far, far more qualified than I am (which isn't saying much).

I don't think it's an effective argument against raising federal judicial salaries to say that a bunch of unqualified people would do the job for $170K. Being a federal judge is obviously "easy" in many ways. One doesn't have to bill hours, the life tenure is good, etc. But efficiently getting right the answers to legal questions in many cases is very hard. We want extremely qualified people to choose to do that for the public, not mopes who would do it because they don't have other options, and we should pay them accordingly. Not the private sector equivalent but significantly more than they're getting now.
9.18.2009 10:54am
Athelstane (mail):
"And... 7 kids? Someone please explain to this poor man what a condom is."

Has it occurred to you that he might actually have *wanted* to have those seven children?

Some of the anti-natalist comments here and at AOL are astonishing (and appalling). It is still legal to have more than 1.2 children, and people do it more often than you might think.

Maybe people will not feel much sympathy for a man with a $170K prestigious job.But it's hard to see what's to criticize, either. He took a job that he wanted, and thought he could do and still support his family. He discovered otherwise, probably not without much effort, and rather than sit in the job and whine for a pay raise, he's leaving to take a better paying job.
9.18.2009 10:58am
Steve:
Justice Scalia has 9 kids, and his salary isn't that much higher!
9.18.2009 11:11am
s_y:
I believe that federal judges do not get any death benefits. I can imagine that this is a very serious concern for a father that is only 44 years old with seven kids. Also, some judges do have a hard time getting used to sentencing people, particularly to the very long sentences that federal crimes usually call for. If the man was a good judge, but he found that the job was not for him, I can't fault him for resigning and letting someone better able to handle the job to be appointed. It wouldn't be good for the courts or justice to have an unhappy judge.
9.18.2009 11:12am
frankcross (mail):
Lots of hateful people. I hardly think it unreasonable for a man to believe that it was worthwhile being a judge but experience after a few years it was not. But the issue has nothing to do with fairness, as people are casting it. Nothing unfair about low salaries.

The issue is quality. If you want monkeys, you pay peanuts. Or in the case of the judiciary, if you want people who get great utility from ideology or bossing people around, you pay less. The theory that there is anything objectionable about a judge (or a teacher) being motivated by money is nuts. It's called being human, and we want human judges
9.18.2009 11:16am
wht (mail):
Salary was known to him when he signed up.

He and is family want more money (money they were used to before). While a 170k "is" good money, if you are used to living on more the cut can be hard to deal with.

You have mortgages and other long term debts and obligations that you took on when you were making more money. Also has children move into the teenager zone their costs increase - schools, clothes, cars, college, etc... is hard.

My guess is the guy was excited at the opportunity but didnt really plan for the adjustments that were necessary.
9.18.2009 11:20am
ruuffles (mail) (www):

Or in the case of the judiciary, if you want people who get great utility from ideology or bossing people around, you pay less.

Therein lies the rub. The same conservatives who don't want those kinds of judges are also against increased government spending and thus disinclined to increase judicial pay. Unless there's a mass exodus of conservative judges, who cite pay as their reason, during Obama's term, I doubt you'll see the willingness of GOP in Congress to vote to increase pay.
9.18.2009 11:21am
ruuffles (mail) (www):

Also has children move into the teenager zone their costs increase - schools, clothes, cars, college, etc... is hard.

Oh that is delicious. MMMM. Let's see

schools - public schools
clothes - hand me downs (not hard with seven kids)
cars - public transport, biking etc etc
college - students loans + state schools

Give me a break. If this were a family making $17k instead of $170k conservatives wouldn't think twice of laughing at them.
9.18.2009 11:24am
Art Eclectic (mail):
The one thing that is consistent across all lines is that EVERYONE thinks they are underpaid and overworked. Find me someone...anyone...who thinks they are overpaid.

Take a good look at our economic statistics and it should be obvious that wages are decreasing, not increasing, and that trend is going to be with us for a while. Global wage arbitrage will continue to decimate wages in the USA. The good news is that as housing costs come back to sanity and affordability, the wage decrease won't hurt as much since a large part of the upward pressure on wages over the past 10 years was driven by housing costs spiraling out of control. If you take the average housing costs and cut them by 50%, most people stop feeling underpaid.
9.18.2009 11:29am
road2serfdom:
Many years ago I called to cancel my Cable TV because I thought satellite was a better deal. The operator asked me why I was cancelling and I told her I felt the price was too high, given my other options. She put me on conference call with her colleagues, and they went off on me, telling me they have no “sympathy” for me. They said I should stop “whining” about prices, that his was my fault. They blamed me for having too many kids; otherwise I could afford to pay the higher price for the same service. After inferring I was a libertarian, she screamed “Irony Alert!” And proceeded to explain how libertarians believe the market system is perfect and if I really was a libertarian I would take personal responsibility by canceling their service and switching to satellite. What a great idea, I thought.
9.18.2009 11:34am
Passing through again:
"If Biglaw salaries resume their upward trend, very soon every single lawyer in high-stakes litigation will make more than the judge."

But that's exactly my point. Even if "Biglaw salaries" DON'T "resume their upward trend," we're already at a point where anyone who is truly involved in a "high-stakes litigation" makes more than the judge. And given Biglaw salaries, we can't possibly hope to ever, ever compete on that level. So that simply can't be the point of comparison.

Short of tripling all judicial salaries, an attorney who has certain salary expectations will never take a judgeship. Period. We have to be honest about that upfront. An attorney of sufficient caliber would never take this job for financial reasons. Instead, they would have be motivated by something else. Whether it's the power or the hours or the prestige or the chance to make a difference or whatever, that decision would have to be based on non-financial reasons.

The fact that some attorneys/judges decide that it's not worth it to them is fine. From my perspective, the federal judiciary is certainly not suffering from a shortage of qualified judges right now.
9.18.2009 11:40am
Passing through again:
And while I agree that the discussion of his children has gotten out of hand, I do think it's fair to criticize him for leaving so early.

One doesn't take an appointed, life-tenured article III job as a stepping stone. Rather, the whole idea is that this is a long-term job. Given the stakes, a president who picks you over all the other applicants and then pushes you through the senate isn't doing so as a personal favor. Rather, the president thinks that you'll make a lasting contribution to society in a particular ideological or judicial philosophy kind of way.

If Bush had known that this guy was going to be a short-termer, he would have appointed someone else, rather than giving a future president the chance to appoint someone else for that life-tenured spot who likely views the law much differently.

If some unforeseen circumstance had changed things, fine. But it doesn't look like that's the case. Given that, while it's certainly his right to leave, it's also our right to criticize him for it. It is a public position that matters a lot.
9.18.2009 11:50am
RPT (mail):
It was unnecessary for the judge to make public comments about his decision. Having done so, he can expect some rejoinder. $170,000 does go further in Riverside County.
9.18.2009 12:13pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
The President of the United Staes makes 400K per year. Before 2001, it was only 200,000.

Unless it is a stunt, I wager that no public company has a CEO that makes less than 400,000.

No judge job is 1% as difficult as being President. Or 1% as important.

Public officials make less than people in the private sector, period. Which is as it should be.
9.18.2009 12:13pm
Bama 1L:
My guess is [Larson] was excited at the opportunity but didnt really plan for the adjustments that were necessary.

We know that's not the case, because Larson was making even less as an assistant U.S. attorney, his job before he was put on the bench. He was only in private practice for a couple years in the early 1990s.

An attorney of sufficient caliber would never take this job for financial reasons. Instead, they would have be motivated by something else. Whether it's the power or the hours or the prestige or the chance to make a difference or whatever, that decision would have to be based on non-financial reasons.

The problems is that there could be wrong reasons: promoting an ideology, enjoying little accountability, bossing lawyers and litigants around, building a resume (after assuring the President and Senate that one is in it for the long haul), even finding opportunities to sell out.
9.18.2009 12:24pm
MR:
Judicial clerks in federal courts, who are often the most talented members of their classes, make as much as $110,000 less than those classmates who went into big law.

Something must be done! If we want talented clerks, we have to pay for that talent!
9.18.2009 12:24pm
guy in a veal calf office (mail) (www):
I'm glad the good judge has 7 kids. He must be smart, his resignation indicates that he wants to provide for his family and not take hand-outs, so the kids should be OK.

Since we've all (GOP &Dem alike) agreed that the kids will pay for all stuff we want today, plus we've obliged them to care of us in our old age, its important that those kids be productive.

That's why I support productive people having lots of kids.
9.18.2009 12:29pm
guy in a veal calf office (mail) (www):
The judge is making all this noise for his colleague's monetary benefit &to echo the chief justice; he won't receive a benefit, only ridicule, since he has resigned. I don't think he's sought sympathy for himself.
9.18.2009 12:32pm
yankee (mail):
But be aware that your views of income are skewed. 170k really isn't that much

I think perhaps it is your views of income that are skewed. $169,300 is well over three times the median family income (~50,000) and is more than what the vast majority (96% or so) of American families make.
Maybe people will not feel much sympathy for a man with a $170K prestigious job.But it's hard to see what's to criticize, either. He took a job that he wanted, and thought he could do and still support his family. He discovered otherwise, probably not without much effort, and rather than sit in the job and whine for a pay raise, he's leaving to take a better paying job.

The problem is that he can still support his family. Lots of middle-class people support families just as large on much less. What he can't do is send them to private school and pay their way through college without taking out loans. If he wants to earn more so he can send them to private schools, I won't begrudge him that. But I don't want this man on the bench if his understanding of how the vast majority of people in this country live is so skewed that he thinks he "can't support his family" on $170k.

But that's exactly my point. Even if "Biglaw salaries" DON'T "resume their upward trend," we're already at a point where anyone who is truly involved in a "high-stakes litigation" makes more than the judge.

Well, except the paralegals. But I don't think we want them to be our point of comparison.
9.18.2009 12:39pm
Crunchy Frog:
I think it's more likely that he just wants to get the hell out of Riverside. Three years ago when he took the job, the Inland Empire was booming - all the free money the banks were giving out to anyone with a pulse put the area on the fast track. Now, with the foreclosure rate in the area at 15-20%, it's turning into a ghost town.
9.18.2009 12:53pm
NickM (mail) (www):
I generally agree with Passing through again, but I feel the need to point something out for the benefit of those people not familiar with the greater Los Angeles area - Riverside County is a much inferior place to live to the nicer parts of L.A. County.
For years, there was a popular saying among young people in L.A. and Orange County that "friends don't let friends date 909" (909 was the area code for metropolitan San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, which has now split along county lines - Riverside became 951).
Its nicest area is in its far southwest, in the Temecula/Murrieta region (assuming you don't want desert living, in the Rancho Mirage/Palm Desert region). Temecula/Murrieta is an hour commute from the federal courthouse. The desert resorts are far worse. Most of the nicer neighborhoods in Riverside County are recent tract homes - the county exploded in population over the last 25 years. There is far less arts and entertainment activity of the sort you might expect a judge and his family to engage in than in Los Angeles or Orange County.
If he's living in L.A. or Orange County, he has a nasty commute to work. If he moved his family to Riverside County when he became a judge, he has probably seen his home value drop by half since the move.
BTW, the Riverside federal docket is very depressing for a judge. You don't get much high-stakes civil litigation in antitrust, securities, commercial paper, patent, etc. You do get lots and lots of criminal drug and immigration cases. He is normally the highest-paid person in the courtoom - because the attorneys are AUSAs and DFPDs.

Nick
9.18.2009 1:04pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
The fact that this is news shows that judges are overpaid. If they were paid a market rate, then there would be more job mobility.
9.18.2009 1:35pm
pete (mail) (www):

I think it's more likely that he just wants to get the hell out of Riverside.


As someone who grew up in San Bernardino county and left when I turned 18, I think that is a likely reason as well. That part of the country is crowded, overpriced, smogy and hot. About the only selling points are the In-n-outs and proximity to entertainment in LA/San Diego.

I also think the main problem here is that because of the current high political stakes of judges, people expect them to serve a long time and at least some judges wait until the party that appointed them is back in power. Republicans would not be as mad if McCain had won and this guy had resigned.

I suspect that the founders had lifetime appointments for judges as a check on the other branches, more than so that one party could influence the judiciary for decades. Personally I think judges should serve limited terms, maybe 10 years with a chance to be reappointed to a second term, but the judicial nomination process is so bitter now I do not think that would help any at this point.
9.18.2009 1:41pm
krs:
Not sure how I feel about this. I wonder if the fact that he's 44 has more to do with it. If he actually likes private practice, then I can see it being difficult to pass up a decade or more of that type of money.

$170k/year is a lot for most people, but if someone could make 5 times that without much difficulty, I can see the temptation to leave, especially at age 44 with 7 kids.

Also, when one is appointed to a judgeship at a relatively young age, I wonder if there's a higher potential for getting bored with the job. You don't really have a boss or benchmarks for achievement... there's just the job itself, which doesn't really change. A 44-year-old judge is probably more likely than a 65-year-old judge to wonder if there's something else he'd rather be doing.
9.18.2009 2:25pm
Aultimer:

ruuffles

Give me a break. If this were a family making $17k instead of $170k conservatives wouldn't think twice of laughing at them.


I suspect you're just trolling, but I think most conservatives (even the least libertarian ones) would cheer a guy making $17K who changes job to take better care of his family, rather than asking the government for a handout.
9.18.2009 3:19pm
New Pseudonym (mail):

Leaders of the House and Senate are paid a higher salary than rank-and-file members.

Senate Leadership
Majority Party Leader - $193,400
Minority Party Leader - $193,400

House Leadership
Speaker of the House - $223,500
Majority Leader - $193,400
Minority Leader - $193,400


What is the constitutional justification for party leaders being paid more than other members (the Speaker is another matter, that position is in the Constitution). Do Sanders and Lieberman get paid extra for being their own leaders?
9.18.2009 5:11pm
ArthurKirkland:
A thread featuring a pleasant, sensible debate. How refreshing.

Anyone who believes $170,000 for life (plus payment beyond life for a surviving spouse, if I recall correctly) is inadeqate should find other work, for several reasons. I see no strong reason to castigate the uninterested, the departed or the system.
9.18.2009 6:53pm
Athelstane (mail):
"And while I agree that the discussion of his children has gotten out of hand, I do think it's fair to criticize him for leaving so early."

Possibly.

But the fact is - we really don't know all the reasons why he stepped down. Maybe one or more of the family now has ongoing health issues. Maybe they wanted to move to be closer to extended family. Maybe...any of a thousand things. Or maybe he did miscalculate and decide he just needed more money after all.

But it seems to me that people shouldn't get too far ahead of themselves critiquing his decision when they don't know all the reasons that factored into it.
9.18.2009 7:38pm
tarheel:

But the fact is - we really don't know all the reasons why he stepped down. Maybe one or more of the family now has ongoing health issues. Maybe they wanted to move to be closer to extended family. Maybe...any of a thousand things. Or maybe he did miscalculate and decide he just needed more money after all.

Sure, except for the minor detail that he issued a press release blaming his departure on the money.
9.18.2009 7:47pm
Redlands (mail):
I've met Judge Larson as he donated his time to help with mock trial competition and another trial skills course. A gentleman, and thoughtful in his critique and suggestions to the students. I've never seen him on the bench but I venture to guess that I'd much rather appear in his court than before some others I've seen over the years.
9.18.2009 11:18pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
On the topic of changing Art III judges to having a limited term, we would soon end up with no judges at all.

I was actually thinking from 06 to 08 that if one of the liberal SCOTUS justices departed for whatever reason the post might well remain vacant for the remainder of Bush's term.
9.19.2009 2:15am
DangerMouse:
A thread featuring a pleasant, sensible debate. How refreshing

Not exactly, Arthur:

And... 7 kids? Someone please explain to this poor man what a condom is.

At least the libs here haven't suggested forced abortions ala China's 1 child policy, or something. God forbid a person bring more children into the world to eat up Gaia's resources and spoil the planet...
9.19.2009 1:44pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Oh well

Arthur had a brief moment of contentment.
9.20.2009 12:55am
larryheard (www):
I don't feel sorry for this guys, seems that he's been planning this from the very start. 2 years? Definitely that's just for a resume builder.
9.23.2009 5:02am
casalmer:
This is a thoughtful and fact-heavy response from Judge Collins (I love the graph).

http://tinyurl.com/yeh5vo4

As a law clerk in the Central District, I attest to the fact that judges (and accordingly their law clerks) in this District are severely overworked. My judge works constantly. She works nights, weekends, and holidays. She hasn't taken a vacation in three years. The workload is unmanageable and the pay is NOT sufficient, considering these judges make three to five times as much as "private judges." There is no cost of living increase for California (there is one for clerks but not for judges). And, although they work for the federal government, being a federal judge in the Central District certainly does not have the "perks" of government work in terms of hours (which is something that might help justify the lower pay). In speaking with judges about this topic, one of the reasons there is a low attrition rate is because many federal judges believe they are doing public service.
9.24.2009 10:56pm
casalmer:
One more thing. If I didn't do my clerkship, I would have been making $160,000 + bonus in my first year at a big firm. Instead, I am making $60,000 as a clerk and working more hours (hard to believe, but it's true). I'm not complaining about my salary because I figure the experience is worth it for skill building and resume value, and it's only a year. But, isn't there something wrong with the fact that I would have been making more than a federal district court judge in my first year out of law school? I think so.
9.24.2009 11:04pm
casalmer:
One more thing: I have been informed that federal judges did recently receive a small cost of living increase.
9.24.2009 11:07pm

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