Recently the Post revealed that arrestees are “packed like sardines” in holding cells for as long as 72 hours awaiting arraignment because of the recent drastic layoffs and cutbacks in the court system ( Long Harm of the Law, NY Post 7/12/11). This is unsurprising to anyone practicing in the trial courts where disgruntled guards and clerks – never very gruntled to begin with – blame the cutbacks for making the court experience more of a hell than ever.
On the same day, the New York Law Journal ran a front-page story about the gargantuan pay hike demanded by state court judges in recognition of “who we are as judges and the gravity of our financial circumstances,” as one Bronx judge put it, scraping by on her annual salary of $136,700 (OCA Urges Up to 41% Pay Raise for Judges, NYLJ 7/12/11).
Chief Judge Flipman immediately issued an order for every courthouse lobby to have a box for donations of clothes and canned goods for needy judges.
Judges are an anachronism in a secular democratic society. Sitting on an altar, clothed in cermonial robes, demanding honorific address, they wield enormous power over the lives of the thousands of people haled into court every year. There is little or no redress against a tyrannical judge.
Yet, judges aren’t required to have greater moral or intellectual qualities than any other state official. They’re cushioned from the kind of competition, peer review or meaningful critique that other professionals have, and tend to develop exaggerated if not actually delusional notions about “who we are as judges.”
If “who we are” is just another interest group demanding a bigger slice of the pie when those they purport to serve have less than crumbs, then perhaps it’s time to send the judiciary the way of the monarchy.
What better way to celebrate Bastille Day?