Friday, May 23, 2008

237. On Judicial Salaries

Senator Frica Pangelinan has introduced a bill that would reduce by 10% the salaries of our Supreme Court Justices and our Superior Court Judges.

The Supreme Court Chief Justice has written in opposition.
Chief Justice Miguel Demapan.
So has the Board of the CNMI Bar Association.

A few comments are in order:

1. The members of the CNMI Bar Association did NOT come out against the legislation. We didn't get to vote. The Board make a quick decision without even telling us, wrote the letter to the newspapers, and we ordinary members of the Bar Association found out about the position at the same time as everyone else.

The decision does not represent the opinion of THIS member of the Bar Association, and I know many other lawyers who do not agree with the opposition to the judicial salary cut.

2. The judicial salaries in the CNMI are ridiculously high. Judges and Justices in some U.S. STATES make less. Our CNMI is about the size of a medium-sized satellite community to a larger urban area. It simply makes no sense to be paying our judges and justices such high salaries, especially in light of our current economic situation.
Associate Justices Manglona and Castro.

3. Judicial independence is important. The Judiciary needs to be in control of its own budget. Judicial salaries need to be sufficient so that the evil temptress of bribery and corruption doesn't find an open door.

But will a 10% salary cut take away the judiciary's budget control? No, not anymore than having the fixed salary that presently exists interferes with the judiciary's control and independence.

Will a 10% salary cut make our judges and justices entertain bribes and corruption?
CNMI Superior Court Judges
If a salary is too low that a public official can't provide for his or her family on it, then it invites bribery and corruption. This is sometimes the problem in setting police salaries. But for these judges and justices, that's not a problem. They'll still be earning more than $100,000/annum. And if a 10% cut does invite bribery and corruption for any, those judges and justices should be impeached. To be truthful, any judge or justice who will consider bribery and corruption at a salary 10% lower than present will also consider bribery and corruption at their present salary, because to those easily susceptible to bribery and corruption, no amount of income is ever enough.

4. Here's another important point: The law will NOT immediately reduce any judge or justice's salary. It cannot constitutionally go into effect until the judge or justice's start of a new term. This means that those remaining on the Bench will have time to prepare for the downward adjustment of their salaries. They can save and plan for the small bite this will take from them.

5. The 10% isn't going to mean a lot to the CNMI coffers--less than $100,000/annum. But it will make for a more equitable distribution of the brunt of economic hardship we're all facing. And possibly make for betting judging from the bench.

It's simply impossible for judges and justices who have such cozy salaries to realize what life is like for those at the bottom rungs of our economy. I represent poor people. Poor people have a lot of legal issues. I have clients who walk to court because they have no cars, and they may be admonished if they're late. I have clients who can't afford child care, but there's no sympathy for a crying child in a courtroom. I have clients who can't call in when they're too sick to show up because they don't have telephones, but their absence may mean that a bench warrant for their arrest is issued. I have clients who owe money facing these highly paid judges who order the poor to pay $10 / month on debts, on the theory that they SHOULD pay what they owe. Of course they should pay what they owe, but in reality that $10 is coming from money they NEED for food, clothing, shelter, utilities, and medicine.

Sorry, but ask what kind of justice are poor people getting from such high-paid officials, out of touch with the realities of hardship. Certainly the stack seems weighted in favor of the HAVES, rather than the HAVE-NOTS.

And it's just OUTRAGEOUS that our judges and justices are not willing and eager to help our sinking government by taking a small pay cut, that still leaves them earning more than $100,000/annum.


Wendy said...

Another great post! This should be in the paper...

KAP said...

I agree. It's about 'sharing the pain' as much as anything.

writtenwyrdd said...

That's a bit out of sync with the rest of the area, indeed! Glad you're getting over the flu.

Lil' Hammerhead said...

Well put.

SteeleOnSaipan said...

Ditto all the above, down to the bullseye closing paragraph.

It was quite shocking how many legislators who didn't take last year's cut w/ their constituents, were still re-elected last Nov. What should seriously offend the electorate, does not.

Thank you for the linked referral.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I hope they read it.

Saipan Writer said...

Thanks, anon. I don't have a wide readership, but word does get around.