That means, Furgeson said, judges have to ‘‘hear cases, even though they might have an interest of some kind, if their disqualification would serve to deny access to the courts.’’
Gray said judges have not had any advantages in court on these salary issues. Federal judges several times have thrown out lawsuits by the black-robed brethren on salary and benefit issues, including in the current case that is likely going to the Supreme Court. The Federal Circuit originally dismissed the judges’ complaint about their not getting their promised cost-of-living increase, but the Supreme Court sent the issue back to the appeals level, at which time the Federal Circuit voted to grant the judges their back pay.
The Supreme Court itself in a 1980 case called United States v. Will ruled that Congress did not have to give judges cost-of-living adjustments if lawmakers take it away before it’s added into judicial salaries. ‘‘As the justices demonstrated in the Will case, judges are able put their personal interests aside when deciding a case if necessary,’’ said Gray of the judicature society, an independent membership organization that works to maintain the integrity of the courts.
The victory in the Beer case is one of the few times judges have won on this issue, said Harry P. Susman of Houston, the lawyer representing the judges seeking a class action. They've been trying to get Congress to fix their salary problems for years to no avail, so going to court is their only option, he said. ‘‘It’s a tough situation.’’
Furgeson noted that federal judges don’t give up their legal rights when they take the bench.
‘‘When there is no other alternative,’’ he said, ‘‘we judges, like all other citizens, should be entitled to our day in court.’’