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Corruption Chronicles

Judging A Big Salary Hike

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices recently issued an outrageous ruling that allows all state judges – including them – to keep controversial pay raises they ruled illegal for state legislators and other government workers.

The case stems from a sneaky, late-night session in mid 2005 in which Pennsylvania legislators approved hefty pay raises for themselves, the governor, cabinet officials and judges. The public became so outraged that a Supreme Court Justice and 17 incumbent legislators were ousted. Frantic legislators responded by repealing the pay raises a few months later.

But a group of judges, who refused to part with the extra cash, challenged the repeal on the ground that it violated a provision of the state constitution barring judicial salary from decreasing. Since the judge’s salaries increased immediately after the raises were passed by the legislature, they argued that the repeal, months later, amounted to an unconstitutional pay cut.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed and ruled that 1,000 state judges – including them – get to keep their pay raises as well as, retroactively, the money they did not get during the last 10 months. That amounts to an annual difference of about $16,000 for a Supreme Court judge and about $14,000 for a common pleas judge.

Allowing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to handle cases when its judges stand to benefit financially should be unconstitutional, according to one editorial which called the ruling an outrage and insult to taxpayers in the Keystone State. It goes on to encourage voters to send the message when the judges come up for retention that Pennsylvanians won’t tolerate sneaks in the legislature or enablers on the bench.

The Pennsylvania Progressive writes that the justices are oblivious to obvious ethical issues about reviewing the legality of their own pay raises as well as voter anger over the issue. One Harrisburg news web site points out that Pennsylvania judges are already among the highest paid in the country with Supreme Court and appellate court judges earning 20% more than the national average.


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