Judiciary Under On the Seige

One can just about picture the commercial that RI Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams would release to correspond with his recent presentation to the RI Bar Association, “Killing Justice: The Judiciary Under Siege.” It would begin in black and white, with dark footage and creepy music:

“Political pressure and agenda-driven criticism also fray the fabric of judicial independence … the current trend is especially worrisome because the sentiments are being voiced not just by a powerless fringe but by those in positions of power.”

The sun breaks through the clouds, bringing a shift to color and to cheerful music:

“Here in Rhode Island, we are lucky enough to have a General Assembly which understands, respects and supports judicial independence and our separation of powers.”*

But a darkly ambiguous chord plays and shadows appear:

“Judicial independence faces yet another threat. This once comes quietly and from the rear flank. Simply put — nationally and locally — judicial salaries do not reflect the respect due the office. Judicial independence is endangered.”

Luckily, as some readers may recall, and as Projo writer Edward Fitzpatrick reminds us (and as would likely be left out of the commercial):

Last year, the General Assembly approved a budget article that prevented the governor from changing the judiciary’s budget and gave Williams control over judicial salaries. This year, Williams proposed $1.57 million in pay raises for judges, magistrates and nonunion employees in the courts. Their salaries would increase by between 4 percent and 38 percent next year, and he’s also seeking raises for 2007.

Mr. Williams admits that he does somehow manage to put food on the table with the $146,098 that the inadequately respectful tax payers give him (plus benefits, including a $7,305 longevity bonus). Surely, however, with proper promotion — perhaps meaning with prudent silence — the people of Rhode Island will agree that appropriate respect for judges is more important than their own ability to make ends meet while remaining in the state.

* Ostensibly, Williams isn’t referring, here, to the General Assembly’s interest in having a “separate power” through which to filter nepotistic hiring so as to diminish the impression of impropriety.

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