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September 21, 2007

Breaking news (and SL&P exclusive?): federal Judge Paul Cassell resigning!

Though I am not sure whether to be sad or excited, I am intrigued to be able to break the news that that affirms Sentencing Hall of Famer District Judge Paul Cassell today has submitted to President George Bush his "resignation from the United States District Court for the District of Utah, effective on November 5, 2007."  For lots of reasons, Judge Cassell's name should be familiar to sentencing fans:  he issued the first major district court ruling holding that Blakely invalided the federal sentencing guidelines and the first major ruling applying the Booker remedy.  Judge Cassell also issued a remarkable decision in the Angelos mandatory minimum case and has spoken out for sound sentencing reform recently as head of the Criminal Law Committee for the Judicial Conference.

I have long been grateful to Judge Cassell for his thoughtful sentencing work (not all of which I agree with), and today I am grateful that he sent me a copy of his resignation letter for posting.  The full letter can be downloaded below, but these middle paragraphs explaining his decision to resign from the bench are especially interesting:

In the past few weeks, two primary factors have led me to do something that I never thought possible – leaving this important public service position.  First, the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah has offered me a chance to return to pursue teaching and scholarship there.  Many interesting things are happening at the College of Law these days, including exciting research by the criminal law faculty and the development of the new Utah Criminal Justice Center.  Returning to the College of Law will give me time to pursue research in my area of greatest scholarly interest – crime victims’ rights. I have several important books and articles on this topic that I would like to turn to as quickly as possible.

Related to this opportunity is the coincidental offer from the National Crime Victim Law Institute to litigate crime victims cases across the country on its behalf.  As you know, many indigent crime victims have unmet legal needs in the criminal justice system, particularly because the content of victims’ rights remains largely undeveloped in the courts.  Because of my academic specialization on this topic, I hope to be particularly effective in advocating on their behalf.

And finally, I would be less than completely candid if I did not mention the uncertainty surrounding judicial pay as a factor in my decision. With three talented children approaching college years, it has been difficult for my wife and me to make financial plans.  As you know, this year federal judges have yet to receive even a cost of living pay increase.  Your much-appreciated proposal to raise judicial salaries has yet to be acted on by Congress.   I would like to ensure that my children will have the same educational opportunities that I had.  How to achieve that within the constraints on current judicial pay is more than a difficult task.  My wife and I have concluded that we may not be able to do what we have always planned to do unless I make some changes.

Download cassell_presidentresign920fix.rtf

September 21, 2007 at 03:09 PM | Permalink


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PAUL CASSELL IS RESIGNING THE BENCH. Among other reasons, he cites problems with judicial pay.... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 21, 2007 4:26:16 PM

» Federal District Judge -- and Leading Conservative Criminal Law Scholar -- Paul Cassell Resigning: from The Volokh Conspiracy
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Tracked on Sep 21, 2007 4:57:48 PM

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Tracked on Jan 14, 2008 5:29:21 PM


I guess this means he will go back to denouncing Miranda for a living.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 21, 2007 3:26:20 PM

It is more than ridiculous for federal judges to keep whining about their $165K+ salaries. Moreover, is is insulting for them to contend that they cannot send their children to college on such a sum. Families making far less accomplish just that every year (mine included). Finally, when one factors in the value of prestige and lifestyle, I doubt that federal judges are underpaid, even in comparison to other lawyers. (And will Cassell really make more on the faculty of the University of Utah than he does at as a judge?)

I might start to think these bellyachers have a point when we cannot find qualified people to accept a judgeship. I see no evidence of that. As long as we can replace one qualified person with another, there is nothing that ought to concern the rest of us.

Posted by: | Sep 21, 2007 3:35:29 PM

I rarely have met a single person that makes more money than they think they need.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 21, 2007 4:11:37 PM

Even you, S.cotus, have to admit that the dissent in Dickerson has the better of the argument.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 21, 2007 4:21:08 PM

I don't have to admit anything. The law is whatever the courts say it is and although WHR's decision wasn't my favorite, it is the law.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 21, 2007 4:41:01 PM

There's no dispute that the decision in Dickerson is "the law", in that the Court has spoken and society chooses to listen. However, that's a separate question from whether the Court got it right.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 21, 2007 4:48:13 PM

I agree with S.cotus about the whining on the bench about pay. Well, boo-hoo. No one forced you on the bench, did they? So, resign like Cassell did, but save your "I can't feed my family and send my kids to college" refrain. It's old. It's tired. It's no one's business but yours. I worry about having enough money for my kids' tuition, too. I don't go whining about it in resignation letters when I leave a job for my next.

Posted by: H. Tuttle | Sep 21, 2007 5:04:06 PM

The issue is not the whining, but whether we want to attract outstanding lawyers to the federal bench. Cassell's whining is unseemly, but if there is a talent drain, it may be something to be considered by Congress.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 21, 2007 5:48:20 PM

There isn't a talent drain. The power alone is a reason to be a federal judge.

In many (but not all) circumstances, the problem is simply that smart people are not politically-connected.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 21, 2007 6:17:40 PM

Kudos to Utah Dean Hiram Chodosh for this hiring coup.

Posted by: Mark Osler | Sep 21, 2007 6:44:39 PM

Back to Dickerson - I agree that the issue was tricky. But what always got me was the fact that the court reversed state-court convictions for Miranda violations. If Miranda was just a supervisory powers decision, then the court couldn't have done that, right (state courts don't have to follow supervisory-powers decisions)? So wouldn't those cases have to be overruled if Miranda was something other than a constitutional rule?

Posted by: DP | Sep 21, 2007 6:58:17 PM

I wish I made $165K. However, lots of private lawyers do much much better. He must want to do much much better, too.

Posted by: Letalis Maximus, Esq. | Sep 21, 2007 7:37:25 PM

Judicial Pay?

Don't let the screen door hit you on your way out, you over-paid, greed-driven, sloven.

We need to be cutting the pay of these people, who work 4 hours a day and are treated like royalty.

Posted by: paul a'barge | Sep 21, 2007 10:11:55 PM

Really, how much more $ is Cassell going to be making as a professor / victims impact? And does he really think he's going to have more influence recycling the same two or three law review topics as a professor -- Miranda bad, death penalty good, victims need more rights, etc. -- than writing opinions as a federal judge? For that matter, why couldn't he publish those articles while still on the bench? There's something here that doesn't add up . . . .

Posted by: I don't get it | Sep 21, 2007 10:27:49 PM

"The power alone is a reason to be a federal judge."

Do we really want federal judges whose desire for power exceeds their desire to provide well for their kids? Even if their definition of "provide well" is more expansive than some Supreme Court decisions?

Posted by: Kent | Sep 21, 2007 10:32:29 PM

I agree that all of this complaining about judicial pay is over the top. There's no shortage of folks who want to be federal judges. $165+ is not enough? Well the free market says it must be if most federal judges remain on the bench despite the "low" pay. Or doesn't supply and demand work in this case? (Kind of like our armed forces: don't have enough troops? Well then free market people, raise the pay and benefits. Or is the free market only for "big business"? Hello professor bainbridge?)

Posted by: Steve | Sep 22, 2007 1:42:45 PM

However much he gets paid, he will continue to receive his $165k per year for the rest of his life. Retired federal judges still get a judicial salary.

Posted by: bruce | Sep 23, 2007 6:46:27 PM

Bear in mind that Cassell is resigning from a federal district court judgeship, not an appellate court position.

Being a federal district judge seems like a wonderful job in many respects, but I can see how it wouldn't be to everybody's taste, particularly a former academic.

Trial judges exercise great power over the cases that come before them. Every so often they get to write an interesting opinion in an important or novel area of law, and Cassell has clearly relished that part of his job. However, the job also involves a lot of case management, docket management, sometimes unrewarding conferences with lawyers and litigants, etc. There are tons of routine and/or frivolous cases to deal with; incoherent pro se pleadings to puzzle over; proposed discovery deadlines to approve; motions for continuances to rule on; etc.

Even with the help of law clerks, these are perhaps not the most enjoyable tasks for a former academic who is used to writing and thinking about ideas in the quiet of his office. So in addition to wanting more dough, Judge Cassell may simply prefer a job that gives him more control over how he expends his time and energy.

Posted by: Mike O'Shea | Sep 23, 2007 7:01:48 PM

However much he gets paid, he will continue to receive his $165k per year for the rest of his life. Retired federal judges still get a judicial salary.

That's false. First, Cassell isn't eligible for retirement. Second, the full judicial salary for life thing applies to senior judges, who are in a sort of retirement status, but still have to do 25% of the work of an active judge. Cassell is resigning, not retiring, and I think he's leaving all of the federal government money behind.

Posted by: | Sep 24, 2007 5:33:06 AM

Right. He isn't (and can't) take senior status. I can't see him making more money at his new job. But, whatever, I am glad that he won't be a judge anymore, and I wish him well. Maybe, as a lawyer, he can more constructively contribute to the debate.

Anyway, as to why people become judges, I think it does have a lot to do with power. Now, I am not saying that this is a bad thing. "Power" can be used for good. But, I think that this drives many judges. In fact, whenever I hear a judge claim that he is just "interpreting" the law I sort of chuckle. If it were that easy, then there would be no disputes as to what the "law" means.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 24, 2007 10:20:43 AM

$165,000 is a lot of money to a lot of people. However, when you consider that first year associates at big law firms make about that much, it puts in to perspective just how much money Judges could make in the private sector. Congress keeps raising their pay all the time, and they hardly give a second thought to judges who are long overdue for a pay raise.

Posted by: | Sep 24, 2007 10:26:02 AM

I think the bottom line is not salary, but that Cassell is unhappy at the drudgery of being a district court judge -- motion after motion, change of plea hearings, routine sentencings, review of magistrate decisions. I suspect that if he were on the 10th Circuit (instead of having his widely-ignored decisions published in FSupp), he would not be leaving the bench.

Posted by: George | Sep 24, 2007 5:00:29 PM

I think the bottom line is not salary, but that Cassell is unhappy at the drudgery of being a district court judge

I wonder how many lawyers get to make such a soft landing based on a feeling of boredom?

Anyway, I wish him well.

Posted by: S. COTUS | Sep 25, 2007 5:52:28 AM

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