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Judicial Conference Endorses Cost-of-Living Salary Adjustment For All Government Leaders

Contact: Karen Redmond, 202-502-2600

The Judicial Conference of the United States today announced its support for a cost-of-living salary adjustment (COLA) for federal judges, members of Congress, and top officials in the executive branch. Voting on a resolution offered from the floor during today's meeting, the Conference said that "such an adjustment to the compensation of these officials is necessary to protect them from increases in the cost of living that have occurred since their last such adjustment in January 1993."

The resolution was offered by Judge Wm. Terrell Hodges, chairman of the Conference's Executive Committee, following a report by Judge Barefoot Sanders, chairman of the Conference's Committee on the Judicial Branch.

The salary of leaders in the three branches of the federal government has been frozen for four years, and as a result, their compensation in real dollars has declined 12.2 percent. During the same period, rank-and-file federal employees received cost-of-living adjustments totaling nearly 13 percent.

While the Judicial Conference is on record supporting a COLA for leaders of all three branches, should this not occur, the Conference urges that Congress strongly consider the special circumstances facing judges. Unlike most members of Congress and all cabinet members, virtually all federal judges make a lifetime commitment and work for many years after other government leaders have retired. If the erosion in the value of federal judicial salaries continues, the compensation rates will fall below the minimum level needed to attract and retain judges of the highest caliber.

Earlier this year the Conference unanimously endorsed (1) a catch-up pay adjustment of approximately 9.6 percent to cover four lost years; (2) the delinkage of judges' pay from Executive Schedule and congressional pay, and linkage instead to General Schedule employees; and (3) the repeal of Section 140 of P.L. 97-92, which requires special congressional action for judicial salaries to increase.

In other action, the Conference:

  • In response to an American Bar Association proposal, agreed to study the desirability, feasibility, and cost of establishing a centrally maintained, publicly accessible electronic database of all opinions submitted by federal courts. The Conference declined at this time to adopt the ABA's proposal for state and federal courts to develop a standard, format-neutral case citation system and recommend the format they can use. The Conference's Committee on Automation and Technology and its Subcommittee on Policy and Programs have thoroughly studied the issue, having held a public hearing, conducted a survey of federal judges, and received and analyzed more than 600 comments from the public.
  • Reaffirmed its long-standing position that federal criminal prosecutions should be limited to those offenses that cannot or should not be prosecuted in state courts. The Conference's position is particularly applicable to the prosecution of juveniles.
  • Reiterated its opposition to certain provisions in H.R. 1252, the Judicial Reform Act of 1997. Specifically, the Conference expressed its opposition to parts of the bill that would (1) allow for a peremptory strike of a judge in a civil action; (2) require the random assignment of habeas corpus cases; and (3) allow the presiding judge in appellate cases to allow media camera access.
  • Delegated to the Director of the Administrative Office authority to grant waivers of miscellaneous fees (excluding filing fees) following a natural disaster, for a set period of time not to exceed one year. The waiver would be considered upon the request of the chief judge of the affected court. Most recently, during spring flooding in North Dakota law firms lost all their court files. They were granted a 90-day waiver of copying fees for those lawyers who needed to reconstruct their files in pending cases.
  • Authorized the use of digital audio recording equipment as a method of recording court proceedings for the limited purpose of studying its use. The one-year study will occur in a minimum of two district, two magistrate, and two bankruptcy courtrooms. Digital audio recording is a computer-based system that allows proceedings to be stored and retrieved through a computer that requires specialized hardware and software. Digital audio recording may have several potential benefits, including enhanced sound quality; immediate and remote access to segments of the record; savings in storage space; and the potential for simultaneous recording, playback, note taking and transcribing capabilities for users.
  • Submitted to the President a slate of names for consideration for either appointment or reappointment to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The governing statute provides that at least three of the members shall be federal judges selected after a consideration of judges recommended to the President by the Conference. The statute also states that not more than four of the members shall be of the same political party. The terms of three members are due to expire on October 31, 1997. Three additional seats on the seven-member Commission already are vacant. At its meeting today, the Conference recommended Judge A. David Mazzone (D. Mass.), a former commissioner, for reappointment and submitted to the President for consideration for appointment the names of Judges Peter Beer (E.D. La.), John C. Coughenour (W.D. Wash.), William Enright (S.D. Cal.), Diana E. Murphy (8th Cir.), Donald E. O'Brien (N.D. Iowa), and Gerald E. Rosen (E.D. Mich.).

The Judicial Conference of the United States is the principal policy-making body for the federal court system. It is chaired by the Chief Justice of the United States and composed of the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade. The Conference meets twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch. The Conference, which was created in 1922, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. A list of Conference members follows.

September 1997

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Presiding

Chief Judge Juan R. Torruella First Circuit

Chief Judge Joseph L. Tauro District of Massachusetts

Chief Judge Ralph K. Winter, Jr. Second Circuit

Chief Judge Peter C. Dorsey District of Connecticut

Chief Judge Dolores K. Sloviter Third Circuit

Chief Judge Edward N. Cahn Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Chief Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III Fourth Circuit

Judge W. Earl Britt Eastern District of North Carolina

Chief Judge Henry A. Politz Fifth Circuit

Judge William H. Barbour, Jr. Southern District of Mississippi

Chief Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr. Sixth Circuit

Judge Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr. Middle District of Tennessee

Chief Judge Richard A. Posner Seventh Circuit

Chief Judge Michael M. Mihm Central District of Illinois

Chief Judge Richard S. Arnold Eighth Circuit

Judge Donald E. O'Brien Northern District of Iowa

Chief Judge Procter Hug, Jr. Ninth Circuit

Chief Judge Lloyd D. George District of Nevada

Chief Judge Stephanie K. Seymour Tenth Circuit

Judge Clarence A. Brimmer District of Wyoming

Chief Judge Joseph W. Hatchett Eleventh Circuit

Judge Wm. Terrell Hodges Middle District of Florida

Chief Judge Harry T. Edwards District of Columbia Circuit

Chief Judge Norma H. Johnson District of Columbia

Chief Judge Glenn L. Archer, Jr. Federal Circuit

Chief Judge Gregory W. Carman Court of International Trade

Conference Secretary:

Leonidas Ralph Mecham, Director

Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts

Related Topics: Judicial Conference of the United States