The New York Times features a story today about the rapid pace of resigning state court judges due to frozen judicial pay:
There is perhaps no more fitting finale to a long legal career than a judgeship. Ascending the bench after years appearing before it can bring power, respect, personal satisfaction, reasonable hours and, often, free parking. There have traditionally been few steps beyond: Retirement. Or death....
Now, for the first time in memory, judges are leaving the bench in relatively large numbers — not to retire, but to return to being practicing lawyers. Turnover in New York has increased rapidly in the last few years: nearly 1 in 10 judges are now leaving annually, a new study shows.
I admit that I am torn about this issue. On the one hand, it seems ridiculous that judges with decades of experience often make less than first-year associates and law professors. Surely their level of dedication and expertise deserve some more financial reward, right? With the current situation, we lose our best judges due to financial pressures. We don't want to end up with a system in which only the rich can afford to become judges.
On the other hand, however, with legal employment at a standstill, with the economy in a ditch, and funding scarce, it's hard to justify substantive raises for the judiciary, deserving or not. It's hard to feel sorry for the NY judge in the article who had to sell her "summer home in the Hamptons" to continue to serve in the judiciary when unemployment is so high and prospects so dim in the legal profession.