Justice for Justices

Posted: Jan 05, 2007 8:01 PM

Notes from the diary of John Jay Postlewaite, retrieved from the salvage of his yacht, Fleetfoot, capsized while racing to Bermuda, no survivors. The lawyer's diary was well preserved in a waterproof case. The diver gave the diary to a reporter from the Bermuda Express, who published the entry written the day before the yacht set out on its fatal trip from Newport, R.I. The heading on the page was: Should I accept offer of judgeship?

Yes Number 1: There's no denying it -- the judiciary is a hallowed profession in America. I've been practicing law for 25 years. It took a while to get used to addressing some of the idiots I've practiced before as "Your Honor" etc., but that's the way the world works. And now the prospect is that everyone will be addressing ME as "Your Honor."

Yes Number 2: As Senator Longo reminded me, this is a lifetime appointment. It's a federal judgeship, and federal judges aren't even up for election every few years, the way state judges are. Is that undemocratic? Well, I haven't been asked to serve on a commission to reconstitute the U.S. judiciary. As far as J.J. Postlewaite is concerned, that's it. Say I live to 80 ... I could quit at 70, but I could keep just enough of a caseload to retain my office and staff up to 80, and serving in senior status is not ... exhausting. Certainly not as exhausting as tomorrow's race to Bermuda will be, judging from last time out.

No Number 1: It does mean less money. I pulled in $350,000 last year. If I accept this appointment to the bench, my salary becomes the same as a member of Congress: $165,200. When the legislators get a raise, the judges get a raise, but members of Congress are influenced by other considerations than justice when it comes to voting themselves a raise.

No Number 2: Then there is that irksome 1989 business. They called it the Ethics Reform Act. Everybody is talking about being fair to judges, but they forget to bring up the Ethics Reform Act. It prohibits judges from earning income from most of the other activities judges used to go in for, sitting-on-boards kind of thing. That would cost me about 75 grand a year. In return, the act promised regular cost-of-living increases, hah hah. There haven't been any such increases in five of the last 13 years.

Yes Number 3: Nobody bangs on your door, like last night, because the boozer who wants to talk to you about the new ruling is, it just happens, the principal client of your firm. And when Charlie wants to talk to you, why, he wants to talk to you RIGHT NOW, never mind that the new ruling isn't going to change anybody's life before the cock crows. But you've got to be nice and friendly to Charlie, even if he telephones you three times in the middle of the night.

Oh! Just thought of something. There'll be the times when they call to make sure it's OK to proceed with the execution. But there aren't going to be that many executions down the line. Though they do happen at inconvenient hours -- they hanged Saddam Hussein at 6 in the morning. But forget Saddam, forget Iraq. The net of it is that I'd have regular hours, bombproof against importunate Charlies. That's an improvement.

No Number 3: There was that feeler from the university a couple of weeks ago. That's a third way to go: (1) stay in private practice, (2) go to the bench, and (3) go to the academy. Law school professors used not to do as well as straight practitioners of the law, but that scene is changing. Especially if they want you as a law school dean. Deans aren't quite at my level now, but it's getting close.

Wouldn't be surprised if I ran into one or more law professors between Newport and Bermuda. I could pick up my radio and say, "Forget navigation for a minute, Henry. Let's talk about professional income. How is it with you and the University of Massachusetts?" The trouble is, you're not allowed to use the radio in these damned races. Maybe someday in the future I could rule that provision unconstitutional!