A wasted life

After a career in public service, I regretfully say, I would not do it again. Philosophy and point of view led me to doing good instead of doing well, so I never expected to become rich. But now that Iā€™m in my 10th year of a frozen judicial salary ā€” less than summer students are being paid at law firms ā€” I have concluded that whatever I may have accomplished for the public, I have wasted 25 years of my life by serving on the bench.

The writer of these words, Emily Jane Goodman, is a New York Supreme Court justice. Her letter appeared in a collection of letters to the editor in response to a New York Times article about college graduates and public service. Does she have a point, or should we call the waaaambulance here?

Some background at New York Law Journal.

5 Replies to “A wasted life”

  1. the funny thing is, i’d bet almost anything that, if an attorney made a similar argument to the judge on behalf of a client…the Judge wouldn’t recognize that as a valid argument!!!

    she chose her path, completely voluntarily and willingly, and shouldn’t complain about it.

  2. I believe state judges deserve to have their work reviewed and raises given out where merited, not a blanket pay raise. Yes it’s been a political football where legislators have tied their unmerited pay raises to the much less hated judges.

    However, why do the judges always make the same baseless argument: I’m making less than an entry-level lawyer at a private firm? That is not a compelling argument. The judges aren’t being paid by a private law firm. They are being paid by the state taxpayers. There will never be enough public money to pay judges (or any other political employee) anything remotely close to what they could command in the private sector. So the decision to enter public service must be done KNOWING that your pay is going to suck if you compare it to potential private opportunities.

    The perks to public service are both non-monetary and post public service. If you can’t stop salivating over the pay that others are making and no longer enjoy the fact that you are indeed serving the public, by all means quit and reap the benefits that being a former state judge will bring to you at some white shoe law firm. If you don’t want to quit, argue for a fair method of assessing judges pay (certainly taking the job out of the hands of the incompetent legislature). BUT QUIT WHINING ABOUT HOW FREAKING POOR YOU ARE. YOU ARE NOT POOR.

  3. It’s a sad quote, and I have to assume that most of our judges don’t feel quite that way–but at the same time, this continual battle doesn’t make it likely that good, qualified people will strive for this position. All this putzing around has meant that NYS ranks 49th in judicial salary when adjusted for statewide cost of living. It indicates that we as a state don’t particularly care about this part of our system. And now we have the unseemly mess of the judicial system suing the legislature and governor, and court employee salaries frozen so they don’t make more than the judges–who needs this? Fork over the money, I say. Freeze the other branches as much as you like until they learn how to produce an ontime budget that involves real revenues. The judges, at least, are doing their jobs.

    As for Phil’s comment that many of the perks are post-public service, I think most of our justices stick around until the mandatory retirement age, which is, I believe, 76?

  4. Hmm, which makes me wonder, if it’s so terrible, why do most stay?! It’s certainly not the same unrelenting force that keeps people in poverty!

    Phil’s right. If you want more money, and you’ve achieved a judgeship, just move to a private firm. Or wait, that might mean actually having to generate the business to justify the higher salaries!

    Most judges are fantastic, I’d guess. But there’s no doubt that judges enjoy higher levels of prestige and less stressful schedules than do private practice attorneys (that as an average probably make close to what a judge does).

    Not all attorneys are pulling in a “Big Law” NYC salary!

  5. I’m not a judge but was a computer programmer in the public sector who left for private industry. Public service, particularly lately, is very demeaning. People don’t go into it expecting to get rich, but, after awhile, it got old watching new hires in private industry making $50K a year more than me, while hearing endless people complain about my measly 2% raises (some years it was zero) and “overpaid government employees,” and people saying things like “well, at least you get to be lazy.” I wasn’t overpaid, and I wasn’t lazy. The other argument, that public sector got more time off didn’t really hold up either. Yes, I had off Veteran’s Day and MLK day, which many private sector workers didn’t, but we always had to work full days on Christmas Eve and New Year’s eve, which most private industry workers had off.

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