If you want a first hand account of how the killing of SB 368 actually came about, go the legislative website and look at the House archived broadcasts for May 29th, the evening session. Rep. Keel takes the floor for a matter of personal privilage about an hour an a half from the end of the session and lays out what went down from his perspective. It's a very interesting insight into how our legislature is busy working (or not working) for us.
I cannot locate an evening broadcast for 5/29.
The whole day is on one broadcast.
Go here and click on the 5/29/05 link:
House Chamber media archives
The speech starts at the 13:00:55 mark, near the end of the session. You must have RealPlayer to view it.
Battle to the end for judges' pay
As session finishes, lawmakers can't agree on raising judicial salaries and their own pensions.
By Mike Ward
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Pay raises for teachers and property tax cuts died days ago. But a proposal to boost the salaries of state judges - and automatically increase legislators' retirement pay as a result - was kept alive to the last moment before the Texas Legislature adjourned Monday.
Negotiations to rescue Senate Bill 368 collapsed only minutes before the House and Senate were gaveled out of business, ending four hours of dramatic back-and-forth between legislative leaders.
"Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose," said Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the author of SB 368.
State Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, author of House Bill 268, which died with Duncan's proposal, also lamented the dead-end talks. His measure would have changed the system in which indigent defendants in capital murder cases get court-appointed attorneys.
Monday's fast-paced negotiations to save the judicial pay raise and the indigent defense proposal, which began about midafternoon, capped 24 hours of angry words and threats among lawmakers.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, threatened a filibuster Sunday night to kill the judicial pay measure because of amendments by the House that he insisted would cripple indigent representation, the same provisions that he disagreed with in Keel's plan.
In a speech on the House floor, Keel criticized Duncan and Ellis for reneging on a deal he said they had to let both measures pass. Duncan and Ellis denied they had any such agreement.
Both measures, plus two others that Duncan wrote, were believed to have died Sunday night, the deadline for the House and Senate to pass final versions.
But by 5 p.m. Monday, with the Legislature on the verge of adjournment, House leaders had proposed new changes to the judicial pay measure.
Just over an hour later, after several meetings and exchanges of new wording between the House and Senate, the Senate appeared ready to end the legislative session. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had just sent a committee of senators down the hall to the House to inform representatives of the Senate's intention to adjourn when Keel came through the Senate's front door with a new offer.
The senators were quickly recalled; the adjournment message was withdrawn.
Duncan, Ellis and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, then sped to the House for a 15-minute, closed-door meeting with Keel and other leaders.
House Speaker Tom Craddick gaveled his chamber adjourned "sine die" - out for the final time. The Senate followed suit two minutes later, at 6:52 p.m.
There was a sense of some urgency to pass the judicial pay raise, Duncan said, because state judges have not had a raise in six years and are leaving the bench in increasing numbers because they can make more money as attorneys.
The fact that increasing judges' pay would have raised lawmakers' retirement benefits "didn't ever come up," he said.
Under SB 368, state district judges would have seen their pay rise from $101,000 a year to $125,000 and appellate judges from $107,000 to $135,000. Pay for Texas Supreme Court justices and Court of Criminal Appeals judges would have gone from $113,000 to $150,000.
Thanks for the post. Those of us out here west of I35 don't get much coverage of the legislature.
So, we get to carry a gun but do not get a pay raise. Is it too late to trade?
Judge pay hits Houston pols in purse
By RICK CASEY
June 1, 2005
Did the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court really threaten to recruit opponents for Austin state Rep. Terry Keel and Houston state Sen. Rodney Ellis if the state's judges didn't get a pay raise because of a tiff between the two legislators?
Keel says Wallace Jefferson did just that in a phone call Sunday.
"He said he'd see to it that I'd have opposition and Senator Rodney Ellis would have opposition" if the pay-raise legislation was blocked.
Keel killed the pay-raise bill with a last-minute point of order in a fit of pique. He accused Ellis and Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, of double-crossing him on a bill Keel had authored on the qualifications required of attorneys appointed to represent defendants in death-penalty cases. Duncan was the author of the judicial pay-raise bill.
Ellis, who together with Duncan denies the double-cross, said he also talked to Jefferson late on Sunday.
"The chief justice was very cordial, very polite," Ellis said. "It would be hard for me to believe Wallace Jefferson would have said that."
Unfortunately, I was unable to reach Jefferson on Tuesday, partly because by the time Keel and Ellis told at length their very divergent stories, the Supreme Court switchboard was closed.
So I don't know whether Jefferson, who presides over a corps of state appeals and district judges who haven't seen a pay raise in six years, threatened anyone.
But I do know this: Judges aren't the only ones grumbling about the revenge killing by Keel.
With his point of order, Keel hit the pocketbooks of nonjudges throughout the state.
A friend who is the top assistant prosecutor to a district attorney was grumbling on the phone because he can't get a raise for the simple reason that his boss believes she should make more than he does.
His boss, like Keel a conservative Republican, could be heard in the background saying, "Keel? That sorry son of a (bleep) is a (bleep bleep)!"
According to the Texas Association of District and County Attorneys, about 140 of the state's 155 district attorneys by law have salaries equal to that of district judges. The state would have increased their pay from $101,700 to $125,000.
Some counties (including Harris) supplement the pay of their judges. Because the bill would have lowered the local supplement, their raises would not have been as large.
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said Keel's killing of the pay-raise bill didn't affect him.
"Our salaries are not tied to judges," he wrote in e-mail. "I've been told that there has been a policy in the past to pay me more than county court judges make because of the difference in supervisory responsibilities."
Rosenthal, who is paid $141,627 annually, is apparently unaware of the ties that bind. According to Dick Raycraft, Harris County's director of management services, virtually all elected Harris County officials are linked to the pay of district judges by a combination of state law and local tradition.
The Texas Government Code provides that the four probate judges be paid at least what Harris County district judges earn, including county supplements of $27,050.
And the county's four civil court judges (not to be confused with state district judges) must be paid at least what the probate judges are paid.
The county's 15 criminal county judges must be paid at least $1,000 less a year than the civil county judges. But the Commissioners Court policy has long been to pay county civil and criminal judges the same, meaning it must be at least what the probate and district judges make, which is $128,750.
So Rosenthal's salary is, indeed, tied to the pay of district court judges.
What's more, his and the state's other district attorneys, like members of the Legislature, have pensions tied to the salaries of district judges.
The formula depends on the length the district attorney served, but if Rosenthal makes it to 20 years, the pay hike would have meant an extra $10,500 a year for him in retirement.
But the judges and the district attorney aren't the only ones in Harris County whose financial fortunes are tied to those of district judges.
By tradition, so are the tax assessor-collector and county and district clerks ($123,672 each), the eight constables ($103,068) and 16 justices of the peace ($99,960) and the county treasurer ($96,216).
And, last and not least, the salaries of the county judge ($137,424) and four commissioners ($130,560) are also, by tradition, part of this informal wage web.
So, ironically, Keel's legislative vendetta may make him a hero to those who think our public officials are overpaid. But it's also an example of how emotional blowups in Austin can send shock waves throughout the state.
Demise of judicial bill spurs accusations
Some blame amendment on indigent defense reform for plan's failure to pass
By JANET ELLIOTT
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
June 2, 2005
AUSTIN - Recriminations about a failed judicial pay raise bill continued Wednesday at the Capitol.
The bill, which also would have boosted legislators' pensions because those are linked to district judge salaries, died Sunday night. Efforts to revive it continued until the gavel finally fell on the 79th legislative session Monday night.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, blamed Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, for killing the bill, which would have raised judges' salaries by 23 percent through higher civil filing fees.
Ellis said Keel was angered that the Senate would not pass an unrelated bill to rewrite the standards for lawyers who could be appointed to represent indigent defendants in death penalty cases.
"It is a shame that this legislation was killed in a petty power grab by some in the House," Ellis said.
Keel countered that it was Ellis who attached problematic amendments to the judicial pay bill earmarking part of a new criminal fine for indigent defense costs. Keel told his House colleagues Sunday night that he would raise a point of order on the pay measure, Senate Bill 368, if it was brought up for a final vote.
The Senate had already adopted the pay bill, but Keel said they could reconsider that vote and pass it without the indigent defense money.
"He killed the bill when he threatened to filibuster if his amendments were removed," Keel said of Ellis.
The amendment would have increased state funding for indigent defense by $8.9 million in 2006, and $13.9 million every year thereafter, easing the current financial burden on counties. It would have doubled the amount of money the state puts into indigent defense.
Keel said Wednesday that it would be a conflict-of-interest for judicial pay to be linked to a criminal fine.
"The concept of directly linking a surcharge on a conviction to a judge's salary was unprecedented," Keel said.
He said another problem was that the caption of SB 368 mentioned that it is related to compensation of state judges and calculation of retirement benefits for elected officials, but said nothing about funding defense lawyers.
"If that bill had passed with Ellis' amendments, it would have been challenged at the courthouse," Keel said.
Ellis said the real problem was with Keel's House Bill 268, which would have expanded the pool of lawyers who could qualify for appointment to death penalty cases.
The bill as passed by the House would have allowed former prosecutors with no experience defending death penalty cases to be the lead lawyer on a case.
Andrea Marsh, with the Fair Defense Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said Keel's bill would have gutted a landmark 2001 state law that set minimum standards for lawyers appointed in death penalty cases. "It would have deleted the core, which was to make sure death penalty lawyers had death penalty experience," Marsh said.
But Keel said former prosecutors who had tried capital murder cases and former appellate court lawyers who have studied death penalty appeals are fully qualified to represent defendants.
"We have artificially limited the pool of lawyers to a group of less capable lawyers who have done an unremarkable job," Keel said.
The net result is that the district judges of this state who, in my experience, work pretty darn hard, enter their eighth year without a rise in pay. What other state employee has had to put up with that kind of nonsense?
The 6 other criminal investigators and I in the Special Prosecution Unit who haven't had salary increases since before the last judges' pay raise. My partner and I, work-partner, not the kind from Massachusetts, are both making less now than we did 10 years ago, with insurance premiums increases, etc. Some might argue that we work pretty hard too, well the partner does, for sure.
I know it's early but, I have heard that the Gov. feels stongly about this issue and may include it in an upcoming special session along with school finance. Any one else hearing those rumblings?
A.P., I'm ready to take up your cause as well. For you all not to have a raise is unconscienable! Having to go to court on occasion and convince juries to vindicate the rights of prisoner-victims has got to be an uphill battle. I'll sign the petition....
Thanks, but let's not forget, many of our victims are not convicts. There have been numerous correctional officers beaten, stabbed, raped, held hostage, "chunked-on", etc.
And, what about "freeworld" victims we work for, such as those who have been harmed, burglarized even killed by escapees, parolees and the like?
I never intended to begin a whine-sampling event, but you posed a question regarding judges and their poverty-levels, so I felt compelled to speak for my co-workers who really deserve fair compensation. I'll be fine, now that I'm earning a 5-figure income.
No, A.P., I was just trying to conjure up the toughest party you have to advocate for. No one who has lingered that long without a raise could be accused of whining.
Say what you will about this job, it is d--ned interesting.
And you get to learn Latin, hone banjo techniques and study ancient history. Man, I must be dreaming; don't pinch me, I might wake up and find myself working for a living.
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