But did you know that judges are suffering, too? Many are already forced to work part-time jobs teaching classes - sometimes in the middle of the workday - to supplement their meager, $161,850, annual salary. Northampton County's three senior judges only make $497 per day, on top of their pension, to do things like handling motions court so judges can "work" from their home offices or teach their classes or wait for the Cable guy.
How the hell can those poor guys afford a vacation home with a salary like that?
Two enterprizing Luzerne County judges did manage to augment their low wages with referral fees (called kickbacks) for sending kids to privately run juvenile detention facilities. Those little brats probably had it coming, but the feds have targeted these poor jurists in what is obviously a political persecution.
Enter Lord Chancellor Ronald Castille, the big mugmump running the state's supremes. He's really peeved that the state judiciary is only slated to receive a paltry $305 million next year. Why, that's the same sum they got last year. Doesn't anyone realize they're judges? Castille wants $30 million more. That's only a 10% increase.
Sure, many in the private sector are facing cuts. Some have even lost their jobs. But did they go to law school? Do they have to walk around in black dresses when it's hot? Do they have to pretend they're never angry? Worst of all, do they have to put up with lawyers?
Well, Governor Rendell is one of those bastard lawyers, and he's unwilling to give Castille a very modest 10% budget hike in the middle of a rescession. Go figure.
To put pressure on the Guv', Castille has come up with a judicial version of the blue flu, the black pack attack.
Citing the state judiciary's "precarious financial position," Castille has asked Rendell to hold off on appointments to judicial vacancies. Our Top Judge is also considering a case disposition slowdown, shutting down operations one day per week, consoldiating magisterial districts, and cutting staff, including a few judgeships here and there. I don't know whether he's considering asking the judges we do have to consider working 8-hour days. That might be asking too much.
Rendell has only been too happy to comply.
In the meantime, Castille blusters that legislators who refuse to give him what he wants are in violation of their sacred oaths to provide for the Courts. "They want to violate that oath, that's up to them. They may be paid back during the election process by the citizens."
"When they have a whole judgeship that's empty for a year and a half, they're going to realize the situation," huffs the High Man in Black.
If Lord Chancellor Castille thinks, for even a second, that his judicial blackmail will result in some sort of public clamor to lavish even more money on our jurists, he's been wearing that black robe in the sun just a little too often. Given the chance, voters are far more likely to kill a few judgeships.
In Northampton County, there are now nine judges, three senior judges and numerous masters to hear delinquency, dependency, custody, support, probation violations and committments. There's even a master to conduct settlement and status conferences on pending litigation. Do we really need that many?
So if His Excellency Castille is serious about making cuts in the judiciary, what directive has he provided to Northampton County jurists? That's a question Northampton County Council member John Cusick asked about two weeks ago. Thanks to a Right to Know request, I have a copy of Deputy Court Administrator Jill Cicero's answer:
"The Court's only knowlwdge if this initiative was gleaned from a newsletter sent by the Chief Justice. We have not received any formal notification from the Supreme Court or the Court Administrator of Pennsylvania to address this issue. Once we receive notification we will follow the direction of the Supreme Court and AOPC and will notify Council and the Executive."
In other words, Northampton County's Court has no intention of effecting any cost-savings measures, and if they ever decide to do so, it won't be at the request of Northampton County officials. In a meeting with Court officials last week, Council Prez Ron Angle was laughed out of their chambers when he asked them to make some cuts.
If Castille is really serious about this crisis, why has he failed to give Northampton County Courts any cost-saving directives?