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For an Efficient Bench, Remove the Politics

March 26, 2004

Re "Counties Perk Up Judges' Paychecks," March 22: As an excuse to pay bonuses to judges, the argument was made that a base salary of about $144,000 for judges is less than what most attorneys make. This is totally untrue. I have been an attorney for more than 30 years and I make far less than the base salary, and I have no benefits. The average salary for attorneys in this state is less than $100,000 per year.

For sure, we need to have highly qualified judges. Plenty of qualified attorneys would like to be judges. The problem in this state is that judges are appointed by the governor. Politics is the main driving force in deciding who gets to be a judge. If you take politics out of selecting who can be a judge, you don't have to pay bonuses to judges and you can set standards to ensure that the best-qualified attorneys become judges.

James A. Jensen

Long Beach

This issue is nothing new. In the mid-1990s, in the midst of another budget crunch, the same issue was raised. Nothing happened. Your report on this program was accurate. Yet even more disturbing is what a number of judges do with this money. Many of them roll it back into a pre-tax contributory retirement account, similar to a 401(k). They then receive matching funds from the county/court for their contribution. They're not only double-dipping, but triple-dipping. The only way this will be stopped is for our elected leadership to show the requisite political will and end this program. Based upon previous results, I'm not encouraged.

Karleen A. George

Los Angeles

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