Federal judges to forgo salary increase, but budget woes persist

March 18, 1993|By Linda P. Campbell | Linda P. Campbell,Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- In the spirit of belt-tightening that has pervaded official Washington, the nation's federal judges will forgo a cost-of-living salary increase for 1994.

The Judicial Conference of the United States, which sets policy for the federal courts, approved the move this week as part of efforts to cope with a range of budgetary woes afflicting the judiciary.

The most serious problem is that the federal courts expect by April to run out of money to pay court-appointed lawyers.

The judiciary is awaiting congressional action on a request for $70.8 million to pay those lawyers through the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Judicial Conference spokesman David Sellers said yesterday that without the extra money, defendants in 22,000 federal criminal cases will be without lawyers, resulting in some cases being dismissed or delayed.

In some cases, judges may order lawyers to handle cases without pay.

By May, the courts also expect to run out of money to pay jurors in civil cases; a further $7.5 million will be needed for that for the rest of the fiscal year.

Because of current budget problems, judiciary employees had to wait until this month to get a 3.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment that took effect Jan. 1.

The Judicial Conference has also ordered local court clerks' offices and those offices providing probation and pretrial services to cut back to 79 percent of their current personnel.

Mr. Sellers said the 1994 salary freeze, which affects more than 1,600 judges, is expected to save the court system several million dollars. It applies to district and appeals courts, as well as bankruptcy judges and federal magistrates.

Judges' salaries range from $122,912 for magistrates to the $171,500 paid U.S. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

To generate more revenue for next year, the judiciary in October will start charging federal agencies to use its computerized system of court records.

The public already pays $1 per minute to use the system, which generates about $1 million a year.

The executive committee of the conference also approved increasing fees for lawyers applying to practice in U.S. district courts from $20 to $50, provided that Congress approves legislation that would let the judiciary keep the money rather than directing it into the general federal budget.

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