January 1, 2006

Top judge worried about court violence, pay gap

By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In his first year-end report on the
federal judiciary, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Sunday
called for better court security to prevent violence and higher
salaries to keep a diverse mix of judges on the bench.

The 50-year-old conservative became chief of the Supreme
Court in September, succeeding his mentor William Rehnquist,
who died of thyroid cancer after serving on the high court for
more than 30 years.

"I recognize that it is a bit presumptuous for me to issue
this report at this time, barely three months after taking the
oath as chief justice," Roberts wrote in his 2005 Report on the
Federal Judiciary. "But I do not intend to start the new year
by breaking with a 30-year-old tradition, and so will highlight
in this report issues that are pressing and apparent."

Roberts expressed concern over violence directed at judges
and in courts in the past year. He mentioned the murders of a
U.S. district judge's husband and mother in Chicago by an angry
litigant, and a court shooting in Atlanta that left a judge,
court reporter and deputy dead.

"These attacks underscored the need for all branches of
government, state and federal, to improve safety and security
for judges and judicial employees, both within and outside
courthouses," Roberts wrote.

"We see emerging democracies around the world struggle to
establish court systems in which judges can apply the rule of
law free from the threat of violence; we must take every step
to ensure that our own judges, to whom so much of the world
looks as models of independence, never face violent attack for
carrying out their duties," he wrote.


Roberts also returned to a theme that Rehnquist regularly
mentioned in his annual reports: the need to raise pay for

"There will always be a substantial difference in pay
between successful government and private sector lawyers," he
wrote. "But if that difference remains too large -- as it is
today -- the judiciary will over time cease to be made up of a
diverse group of the nation's best lawyers.

"Instead it will come to be staffed by a combination of the
independently wealthy and those following a career path before
becoming a judge different from the practicing bar at large,"
he wrote. "Such a development would dramatically alter the
nature of the federal judiciary."

Roberts said the real pay of federal judges has declined
since 1969 by almost 24 percent, while the real pay of the
average American worker during the same period had increased by
more than 15 percent.

The chief justice also asked the government to eliminate or
at least sharply lower courthouse rent that the judiciary has
been paying the General Services Administration.

He said the judiciary spends nearly 16 percent of its total
budget on rent, compared to the Justice Department, which
spends about 3 percent of its budget on rent, and the entire
executive branch, which spends a fraction of 1 percent.