Thursday, February 22, 2018
Politics

Salary is a concern for Florida Supreme Court justices

TALLAHASSEE — The job pays $161,000 a year, comes with black robes and is considered the highest honor for a Florida lawyer.

But as Gov. Charlie Crist goes looking for four new Florida Supreme Court justices over roughly the next 18 months, he may find slim pickings.

The departures of Justices Raoul G. Cantero III and Kenneth Bell, the newest and youngest members of the seven-member bench, highlight the drawbacks of the prestigious job, particularly for younger candidates with growing families.

Justices, who have often spent their careers in a single city, must move to Tallahassee. Once there, they'll likely earn far less than they could in the private sector. And unlike other high-level state employees, they are required to pay health care premiums.

Crist will have the opportunity to reshape the high court, with four appointments in his first term. Two more justices, Harry Lee Anstead and Charles T. Wells, hit the mandatory retirement age by next year.

Some of Crist's top advisers are warning the search could be challenging. For each slot, Crist will receive three to six recommendations from the Judicial Nominating Commission.

"The risk that you run, if you don't make changes, is that you will wind up with applicants who are mediocre lawyers or multi-millionaires," said Chris Kise, a former counselor to the governor now in private practice, whose name has surfaced as a potential contender.

Cantero said the public service of the job has been highly fulfilling, but acknowledged he is having trouble talking up the job.

"I've talked to a lot of people who are unwilling to apply because it's too much of a sacrifice on their families," said Cantero, 47, who is stepping down, because his family wants to be closer to relatives in Miami.

Judicial pay, which is set by the Florida Legislature, is by no means a Florida-only problem. In pushing for pay hikes for federal judges, Chief Justice John Roberts declared judicial pay a "constitutional crisis" in 2007.

This year, Georgia Supreme Court justices, who earn $167,209, nearly got a 5 percent pay hike, but their governor vetoed the measure. The Texas Legislature recently bumped salaries of justices on the state Supreme Court to $150,000, up from $115,000.

In Florida, justices' last pay hike was the same cost-of-living increase all employees got in 2006. Justices also pay roughly a third of the cost of their health insurance premiums, like most lower-level state employees, while some of the high court's top staff, like the clerk, receive essentially free health insurance, paid for by the state. So do the governor and other high-level managers such as the chief of staff.

This year, Florida lawmakers for the first time set aside $200,000 for justices' use to travel to their hometowns. The money is part of the budget waiting for Crist's approval. However, in a tight budget year no pay increase is included.

As a comparison, federal court district judges earn $169,300, or 5 percent more than state Supreme Court justices. And federal judges have the opportunity to draw their full salary upon retirement, if their age and years of service equal 80.

Some first-year law graduates who get jobs at major law firms can pull six-figure salaries, said Kise and George LeMieux, the governor's former chief of staff. A salary study by the Florida Bar in 2006 showed that the median salary for a law partner in Florida was $145,000; for a recent law school graduate, $55,000.

"To try to get a lawyer to take a pay cut to be a judge is very challenging," said LeMieux, whose law partner Robert Hackleman is on the Judicial Nominating Commission.

Family concerns

Both Cantero and Bell have told friends that they've faced major challenges in balancing their family and work lives under the current compensation plan.

In April, Cantero announced his resignation, effective Sept. 6. He said that part of the problem is that the cost of traveling between South Florida from Tallahassee has grown for his family of five. He also had to pay to move his family to Tallahassee out of his own pocket.

Cantero said on Friday that he had already realized he was going to rethink a return to private practice as his children grew to be college-aged. Then, when his daughter got sick and had a benign tumor removed, the distance between Tallahassee and a large, tight-knit family in Miami made his family homesick.

"The whole ordeal of going through that alone in Tallahassee hit home that we needed to be where our family was," Cantero said.

Last month, Bell announced his resignation, effective Oct. 1. He moved his family to Tallahassee for about a year, then they moved back to Pensacola. His family lives there now, and Bell, 52, has been commuting, confirmed Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters.

To save money, Bell has lately been staying at the homes of friends and family members in Tallahassee while he is needed on the job, Waters said.

Comments
Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Gun advocates are absolutely right about this:A ban on assault weapons will not end school shootings.How do we know?Because there was a federal ban on assault weapons for 10 years, and mass killings persisted. That’s because a ban deals only with fut...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Focused on Cuba’s future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

Focused on Cuba’s future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

TAMPA — One highlight of a congressional delegation’s visit to Cuba this week was an impromptu meeting with President Raul Castro.But not for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.The Tampa Democrat joined five other Democrats on the trip, in part to investigate th...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Melania Trump’s parents are legal permanent residents, raising questions on ‘chain migration’

Melania Trump’s parents are legal permanent residents, raising questions on ‘chain migration’

The parents of first lady Melania Trump have become legal permanent residents of the United States and are close to obtaining their citizenship, according to people familiar with their status, but their attorney declined to say how or when the couple...
Published: 02/21/18
Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governor’s race

Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governor’s race

We’ll take "surprising side gigs" for $1,000! "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek will moderate a debate among Republican hopefuls vying for the Pennsylvania gubernatorial nomination.The longtime game show star will be questioning candidates at an Oct. 1 for...
Published: 02/21/18
Spring Hill candidate for Congress: ‘I care about this community — I will scream that from the rafters’

Spring Hill candidate for Congress: ‘I care about this community — I will scream that from the rafters’

SPRING HILL — A Hernando County woman new to the political arena has filed as the fifth Democrat to run against longtime Florida lawmaker U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster for his spot in the U.S. House of Representatives.Dana Cottrell, 49, has lived in Sprin...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/21/18
St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

The 2017 St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race was celebrated as more than a competitive regatta to Cuba’s capital city of Havana.The relaunch of the maritime competition canceled since 1959 was hailed as a reflection of the detente started under former P...
Published: 02/20/18
Special counsel files new charge in Russia probe

Special counsel files new charge in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election charged an attorney Tuesday with lying to federal investigators about his interactions with a former Trump campaign official. A charging document filed in federa...
Published: 02/20/18
Man featured on ‘Trump Dating’ site has child sex conviction

Man featured on ‘Trump Dating’ site has child sex conviction

GREENSBORO, N.C. — A North Carolina man with a felony conviction for indecent liberties with a child was one-half of the poster couple for a new "Trump Dating" website.News outlets reported Monday that visitors to the dating site geared toward suppor...
Published: 02/20/18
Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Associated PressST. PETERSBURG, Russia — While Russian officials scoff at a U.S. indictment charging 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, several people who worked at the same St. Petersburg, Russia, "troll factory" say t...
Published: 02/19/18
Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Associated PressWEST PALM BEACH — From the confines of his Mar-a-Lago golf club, President Donald Trump offered support Monday for a limited strengthening of federal background checks on gun purchases while staying largely mum in the past few days ab...
Published: 02/19/18