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Wednesday, 24 February 2010 17:50

The nuts and bolts of the bench

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The starting salary for a judge is $109,000, but can climb much higher for judges with a long tenure thanks to cost of living raises plus a bump in pay for every five years spent on the bench.

Judge Steve Bryant now makes $132,000 a year.

“There are certainly lawyers making more than that and certainly lawyers making less than that,” Bryant said.

These days, however, with the recession taking its toll on the legal profession, there are far more lawyers below that figure than there used to be. Candidates have to plunk down $1,094 to run — 1 percent of the salary.

The job isn’t a cakewalk. While attorneys who labor 10 hours a day envy the judge that strolls up to the bench at 9:30 a.m. to start court, breaks for lunch between 12:30 and 2, then knocks off at 5, it’s not what it appears.

“I think people have the perception that everything you do takes place on the bench,” Bryant said.

But Bryant regularly takes work home to research case files and legal precedent, working nights and weekends.

And that doesn’t count the driving time. In a judicial district that spans seven counties — a more than two-hour drive from tip to tip — judges travel from courthouse to courthouse wherever they are needed.

“You can’t just decide to take a day off because there are 400 people waiting on you,” Judge Danny Davis said.

The district was so large and unwieldy — and had grown so much in case volume — that an additional judge’s seat was added four years ago, bringing the total to six seats.

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