Over six years, law clerks have pocketed $110,225 from these fees. "I don't see why anybody's getting a stipend to do what's in their job description," Cusick said.
He also thinks their salaries need to be reduced.
"We made it comfortable and it created a situation where it became possible for the clerks to become career service. And that was not the intention. I remember, I was there when Jim Onembo [former court administrator] came and said, 'We need to raise these salaries so we can the best and the brightest students out of law school.' Well, that's not what happened. What's managed to occur is that these people have just stayed on because of the higher salary.Cusick said he is unsure whether Council can legally insert itself into the moonlighting issue. At least one clerk is doing legal research for a law firm that practices in this County. But Cusick said that question of judicial ethics should be resolved in the courts, not Council.
I think Council needs to consider, at least for new hires, moving the pay rate back to where it was ... . At least that removes some of the incentive for long-term clerkships."
Controller Steve Barron, speaking for himself, condemned the moonlighting. "If I was the attorney on the other side, I'd be a little bit upset," he said. "The perception is there that the deck is stacked against me, and that shouldn't be when you walk into a courtroom."
Speaking as Controller, Barron is concerned about the $2.3 million paid to the County's 10 conflict counsels in recent years.
He also addressed Council on the law clerk question. He noted that the information that I supplied to Council had in fact been obtained from him, pursuant to an informal right-to-know request.
I have written to the court about these matters. I've received no written reply, but have been told a few things informally. Judges know not to write anything that you can say, and not to say anything that you can wink. Here's what I'm told.
- Judges use no private attorneys as law clerks. But vendor records show that at least one Bethlehem attorney was recently paid to do legal research for a judge. Perhaps I misunderstood what I was told. This is why I like written replies.
- Courts are willing to discuss the stipend question with Executive John Brown. I see no reason for the court to drag its feet on an issue where they are clearly wrong. Their refusal to end the stipend just proves that they do think they are entitled.
- Courts are unaware of any clerk who does outside research for a Northampton County lawyer, so I named one clerk and one law firm.