June 02, 2005
The judicial pay raise flap

There's apparently some lingering bad blood from the past legislative session between State Rep. Terry Keel and State Sens. Robert Duncan and Rodney Ellis. Duncan was championing a bill to give a raise in pay to state judges, while Keel was trying to pass a bill to change the system in which indigent defendants in capital murder cases get court-appointed attorneys. Keel claims that Duncan and Ellis promised to support his bill in the Senate in return for Keel's support of the pay raise bill in the House, but then reneged after Ellis claimed Keel's bill would lower standards for defense attorneys enacted in 2001. Duncan and Ellis deny the charge.

There's coverage of the story here, here, and here. Rick Casey had a column yesterday which reported Keel's claim that Texas State Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson threatened to help recruit opponents for himself and Ellis as a result of this squabble (Ellis says Jefferson said no such thing to him). One presumes Jefferson would have been referring to a primary challenger for Keel, unless he has more power in the Democratic Party that I'd have thought.

I'm kind of amazed that something as non-ideological as this would generate such heat, but I suppose that's the nature of the end of the session. Speaking as the son of a former judge, though, I'm sorry to see that the pay raise, which would have been the first in six years, died in this battle. Judges make a good living, but after six years of inflation almost any non-CEO salary can feel a little squeezed. It's tough having your compensation depend entirely on factors outside your control, and as Sen. Duncan said, it's sure to make private practice a lot more tempting to the more talented jurists. It's not clear to me from these stories how this was supposed to be paid for, but now it doesn't matter. Maybe next session, whenever that is.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 02, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack

Lots of backstory here; this bill's death had nothing to do with its contents. Aaron Pena wrote up some of it: It got wrapped up with HB 268 which would make Texas the first state in the country to opt into a federal law to speed up ("fast track") the death penalty habeas appeals process. Both sides tried to hold the other bill hostage. In the end, the hostages died.

Posted by: Scott on June 2, 2005 2:00 PM