Friday, October 30, 2009

Judges Are Fading Away; The Bench Has Lost Its Appeal.

PITTSBURGH (AP) - U.S. District Judge Robert Cindrich has a lifetime job and could have retired in less than six years with full pay - though not a pension - of more than $155,000 a year.
But on Feb. 2, the 60-year-old jurist launched a new career as chief legal counsel with a hospital network, joining a record number of federal judges who observers say are retiring or resigning because of lagging pay and stringent guidelines that take away most of their discretion in criminal sentencings.
"We're losing more every year. (Those are) two principal reasons as I see it - and they apply to me, too," Cindrich said.
There are 877 federal judge positions that are lifetime appointments, from the Supreme Court on down to district courts, and 45 of those seats are vacant, according to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. Although a Senate logjam that has kept President Bush from getting his judicial appointees confirmed gets the headlines, observers say a more pressing long-term concern is the rate at which judges are leaving.
From 1991 through February 2002, more than 60 judges either retired or resigned to go into private practice, said Karen Redmond, spokeswoman for the U.S. Courts office, which studied the matter two years ago. Since then, another 10 federal judges have left the bench - compared to just five judges who resigned or retired during the entire decade of the 1960s, Redmond said.
A commission chaired by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker two years ago strongly urged Congress to boost the pay of federal judges, but a resulting bill that would have raised those salaries by 16.5 percent was defeated last session.
The two largest groups of federal judges - district and circuit court judges - annually make $154,700 and $164,000, respectively. The deans at top U.S. law schools earn more than $300,000, while law professors at those schools make more than $209,000, according to a study cited by the Volcker Commission.
Joe Kendall left his U.S. District Court job in Texas when he was 47 after 10 years on bench. He told The Third Branch, the newsletter for the federal courts system, that with two soon-to-be college-aged children, he couldn't afford not to sell his skills to the private sector.
"If federal judges were paid what an average partner in an average law firm in an average city was paid," Kendall said, "I'd still be on the bench."
Cindrich earned $133,600 when he was appointed in 1994. His $154,700 salary - which has been adjusted for cost of living just five out of his nine years on the bench - is worth about $11,000 less in real dollars today.
"Judges are supposed to be relatively smart people so it doesn't take us long to figure out, 'I'm going backward,'" Cindrich said. Added to that are hidden costs.
Federal judges don't get a pension. They can retire after age 65 once they have at least 15 years' service or take senior status and continue to work as long as they carry a caseload equal to 25 percent of those carried by judges on their court. Either way, they continue to receive full pay - but because it's not a pension, their dependents lose that income when the judge dies.
"That's one of the reasons a lot of us leave the bench," Cindrich said. "You compensate for it by buying a lot of life insurance."
Although Cindrich says the job is deeply satisfying, the changing face of federal law is taking its toll on that, too.
Developed in 1986, federal sentencing guidelines were designed so defendants in different areas of the country received similar sentences for similar crimes. But, combined with mandatory minimum sentences heralded as the solution to the "war on drugs," the guidelines too often result in lengthy sentences for what Cindrich calls "street criminals ... not the big drug runner flying in on jets from South America."
"When the law provides a result that is repugnant, we must still follow the law," Cindrich said. "And you can only do that so many times before you start to wonder, 'How many more times am I going to put my name on this sentence that I don't believe in?'

Judge London Steverson
London Eugene Livingston Steverson
 (born March 13, 1947) was one of the first two African Americans to graduate from the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1968. Later, as chief of the newly formed Minority Recruiting Section of the United States Coast Guard (USCG), he was charged with desegregating the Coast Guard Academy by recruiting minority candidates. He retired from the Coast Guard in 1988 and in 1990 was appointed to the bench as a Federal Administrative Law Judge with the Office of Hearings and Appeals, Social Security Administration.

Early Life and Education
Steverson was born and raised in Millington, Tennessee, the oldest of three children of Jerome and Ruby Steverson. At the age of 5 he was enrolled in the E. A. Harrold elementary school in a segregated school system. He later attended the all black Woodstock High School in Memphis, Tennessee, graduating valedictorian.
A Presidential Executive Order issued by President Truman had desegregated the armed forces in 1948,[1] but the service academies were lagging in officer recruiting. President Kennedy specifically challenged the United States Coast Guard Academy to tender appointments to Black high school students. London Steverson was one of the Black student to be offered such an appointment, and when he accepted the opportunity to be part of the class of 1968, he became the second African American to enter the previously all-white military academy. On June 4, 1968 Steverson graduated from the Coast Guard Academy with a BS degree in Engineering and a commission as an ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard.
In 1974, while still a member of the Coast Guard, Steverson entered The National Law Center of The George Washington University and graduated in 1977 with a Juris Doctor of Laws Degree.

USCG Assignments.
Steverson's first duty assignment out of the Academy was in Antarctic research logistical support. In July 1968 he reported aboard the Coast Guard Cutter (CGC) Glacier [2] (WAGB-4), an icebreaker operating under the control of the U.S. Navy, and served as a deck watch officer and head of the Marine Science Department. He traveled to Antarctica during two patrols from July 1968 to August 1969, supporting the research operations of the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Research Project in and around McMurdo Station. During the 1969 patrol the CGC Glacier responded to an international distress call from the Argentine icebreaker General SanMartin, which they freed.
He received another military assignment from 1970 to 1972 in Juneau, Alaska as a Search and Rescue Officer. Before being certified as an Operations Duty Officer, it was necessary to become thoroughly familiar with the geography and topography of the Alaskan remote sites. Along with his office mate, Ltjg Herbert Claiborne "Bertie" Pell, the son of Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell, Steverson was sent on a familiarization tour of Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force bases. The bases visited were Base Kodiak, Base Adak Island, and Attu Island, in the Aleutian Islands.[3]
Steverson was the Duty Officer on September 4, 1971 when an emergency call was received that an Alaska Airlines Boeing 727 airline passenger plane was overdue at Juneau airport. This was a Saturday and the weather was foggy with drizzling rain. Visibility was less than one-quarter mile. The 727 was en route to Seattle, Washington from Anchorage, Alaska with a scheduled stop in Juneau. There were 109 people on board and there were no survivors. Steverson received the initial alert message and began the coordination of the search and rescue effort. In a matter of hours the wreckage from the plane, with no survivors, was located on the side of a mountain about five miles from the airport. For several weeks the body parts were collected and reassembled in a staging area in the National Guard Armory only a few blocks from the Search and Rescue Center where Steverson first received the distress broadcast.[4]. Later a full investigation with the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the cause of the accident was equipment failure.[5]
Another noteworthy item is Steverson's involvement as an Operations Officer during the seizure of two Russian fishing vessels, the Kolevan and the Lamut for violating an international agreement prohibiting foreign vessels from fishing in United States territorial waters. The initial attempts at seizing the Russian vessels almost precipitated an international incident when the Russian vessels refused to proceed to a U. S. port, and instead sailed toward the Kamchatka Peninsula. Russian MIG fighter planes were scrambled, as well as American fighter planes from Elmendorf Air Force Base before the Russian vessels changed course and steamed back

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1 comment:

Antinomian said...

One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights or to Cuba for political prisoners. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under prosecution of the war on drugs. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance global credibility.

The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as life is flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. Behold, it’s all good. When Eve ate the apple, she knew a good apple, and an evil prohibition. Canadian Marc Emery sold seeds that enable American farmers to outcompete cartels with local herb. The hero is being extradited to prison for the crime of reducing U.S. demand for Mexican pot.

Only on the authority of a clause about interstate commerce does the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) reincarnate Al Capone, endanger homeland security, and throw good money after bad. Administration fiscal policy burns tax dollars to root out the number-one cash crop in the land, instead of taxing sales. Society rejected the plague of prohibition, but it mutated. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

Nixon passed the CSA on the false assurance that the Schafer Commission would later justify criminalizing his enemies. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA shut down research, and pronounced that marijuana has no medical use, period. Drug juries exclude bleeding hearts.

The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership or an act of Congress to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. John Doe’s free exercise of religious liberty may include entheogen sacraments to mediate communion with his maker.

Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

Common-law must hold that adults are the legal owners of their own bodies. The Founding Fathers undersigned that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration.