By Bob Negele
If you had not had a raise in 14 years, would you consider leaving your job?
I suspect most people would answer "yes" to that question. So why have bankruptcy judges, who have an increasingly heavy workload and handle some of the most complex cases in the federal bankruptcy court system, not seen an increase in pay since 1993?
Many bankruptcy judges have been leaving the bench in order to take higher paying positions elsewhere, a trend which has bankruptcy experts concerned.
The reason federal judges have not had a raise in salary for so long is because judicial salaries are linked to the pay of Congress.
For political reasons, members of Congress often decline pay raises and cost-of-living adjustments to their salary.
Federal judges have not had the opportunity to decline a pay raise because they haven't been offered one.
The decisions made in Congress to forgo pay increases has caused inflation-adjusted judicial salaries to fall by 25 percent since 1969, according to The American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI), the largest organization of bankruptcy professionals in the United States, which support a salary increase for bankruptcy judges.
Sam Gernado, the executive director of the ABI has said "Judges are not politicians dressed in robes and shouldn't be compensated that way".
Senator Patrick Leahy has sponsored a bill which is awaiting action by the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he is the chairman. The Federal Judicial Salary Restoration Act would give pay raises to judges in the district bankruptcy court, appeal court and the Supreme Court circuits.
The ABI says it supports the legislation which would give bankruptcy judges a 50 percent pay raise. If the Federal Judicial Salary Restoration Act is passed it would raise a bankruptcy judge's salary from the $151,984 per year that they are currently paid to $227,976 per year.
Bankruptcy judges earn approximately 8 percent less that Federal district court judges.
According to ABI, nearly three dozen new public-company cases with more than $28 billion in pre-bankruptcy assets are being processed by the federal bankruptcy courts.
The ABI chairman John D. Penn wrote, "The rights of millions of employees, retirees and other stakeholders are at issue in these cases, and so retaining and attracting the top member of the legal profession is vital to the administration of the bankruptcy system".
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito of the Supreme Court have lobbied Congress for pay increases for judges.
The bill also has the support of the American Bar Association and President Bush.