Retiring Bankruptcy Judge Seeks Adequate Compensation

At the TMA Board of Trustees meeting held during the recent 2011 TMA Spring Conference in Chicago, Jack Butler presented a letter he recently received from the Hon. George C. Paine, II, Chief Judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

In his letter, Judge Paine, who will be retiring at the end of 2011, explains that compensation for bankruptcy judges has remained the same (about $160,000) for over 20 years because of linkage to Congressional salaries. The Judge then notes that, as a result, bankruptcy judges are paid less than other court and government employees who have substantially less responsibility. He also points out the disparity between judicial salaries and the compensation of attorneys in private practice.

Judge Paine warns of the potential consequences to corporate restructuring resulting from the disincentive that inadequate pay creates for capable and experienced bankruptcy attorneys to choose to serve in judicial capacities. He says, “this inequity can only lead to less qualified candidates applying for judgeships rather than highly qualified individuals seeking the position as the capstone to a successful commercial legal career.”

Judge Paine has raised serious concerns regarding the long-term impact of inadequate compensation upon the willingness of highly qualified candidates to serve on the bankruptcy bench. His letter contains a number of examples where federal employees with specialized skills are paid at levels intended to attract strong talent.

We who work in the restructuring industry are challenged by the Judge’s letter to act together “to push for increased judicial salaries so that judgeships become the capstone of successful careers, not stepping stones or gravestones.” It is important that we speak up to educate Congress on the importance of adequate compensation for bankruptcy judges.