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Federal Circuit hears judges' pay case

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A federal appellate court heard arguments Friday in a case that could ultimately decide if Congress has the authority to withhold judicial pay increases as it’s done in the past or whether cost-of-living adjustments are required.

The case of Peter H. Beer, et al. v. U.S., No. 09-1395, is before a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals panel, after the Supreme Court of the United States in June remanded the class-action lawsuit to decide a procedural question about preclusion and the notice requirements involved in class certification.

While the case is about judicial pay, those merits weren't considered Friday. Instead, the panel is currently weighing whether the case should be allowed to proceed.

Eight current and former federal judges from U.S. courts nationwide claimed that Congress in 1989 promised cost-of-living adjustments but failed to deliver them several times during the past two decades. They argue that failure equates to an unconstitutional diminishment of judicial pay. The American Bar Association urged the SCOTUS to take the case because it views the continued diminution of judicial salaries as a danger to the judiciary’s independence and quality of work.

In January 2010, the Federal Circuit affirmed a 2009 ruling by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which had dismissed the case after holding the judges’ lawsuit was controlled by a 2001 case that rejected the same argument. After the plaintiffs asked the SCOTUS to take the case, the government opposed the request and argued that the judges’ claims depend on an interpretation of the Constitution’s compensation clause that the Federal Circuit had rejected in the 2001 case.

The SCOTUS ordered the Federal Circuit reconsider that issue, and that was the focus of Friday’s arguments.

The judges focused on the actual notice requirements in the class certification rules and how caselaw, even the most recent SCOTUS decision in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), factored into this set of circumstances.

At its heart, the case is about whether money-focused requests for relief require specific notice to class members who weren’t a part of the 2001 case or whether they are precluded from filing a new suit even if they didn’t know about the 2001 ruling. Some of the questions focused on whether actual notice is required.

Attorney Chris Landau with Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C., argued on behalf of the plaintiffs, saying that this case comes down to due process. He said the court has an obligation to look after those absent class members to make sure they have adequate notice of the class-action requirements.

“This is kind of due process 101,” he said. “You can’t tell people, ‘Guess what… you can’t bring a lawsuit about your pay'… it’s hard to imagine a more classic monetary judgment matter than your pay.”

But Assistant Attorney General Tony West argued that the lower court’s judgment should be upheld because the plaintiffs in this case were bound by the 2001 decision rejecting the argument they’re making now.

“This case presents a lot of open questions that can be litigated, at least at the Supreme Court level,” he said.

The Federal Judges Association is an amicus curiae party in the case, which has national implications for federal judges throughout the U.S.

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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