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Federal judge resigns, citing low morale and pay

By KEN HOOVER

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A federal judge, his voice choked with emotion, announced Tuesday he is resigning from the bench, citing low pay, low morale and a caseload so heavy 'we don't have time to think anymore.'

The courtroom of U.S. District Judge Raul Ramirez, 45, was packed with reporters, lawyers and courthouse workers for a nearly unprecedented news conference, at which he said he will join a major San Francisco law firm at the beginning of next year.

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'Eighty-nine thousand dollars isn't enough to put four children through private colleges,' Ramirez said, referring to a federal judge's salary. 'As you well know, the cost of a private college starts at around $15,000. With four children in college, I'd like to know how I'm going to make it.'

He said the man on the street might think his salary generous and that he could send his four children to public universities, but, the judge added, 'As a person at the top of my profession for 20 years, that's a choice I shouldn't have to make.'

At one point, Ramirez's voice cracked and he was forced to stop speaking.

'That's all right,' he said as he waited for a reporter's question. 'You can pick on a crying federal judge.'

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Ramirez was one of the youngest federal judges ever when he was nominated in 1979 by President Carter to the post, which carries a lifetime appointment, high prestige and salary of $89,500 a year.

He will becme a partner in the Sacramento office of Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, a firm with 258 lawyers and other branches in Los Angeles and New York City.

'I hope I make a lot of money,' he said.

He said he was taking the highly unusual step of calling a news conference in order to draw public attention to what he said is the declining morale and status of federal judges.

'Morale is at an all-time low,' he said. 'Not only have we been passed over in regard to federal judicial pay, but we have been looked upon almost as second-class citizens.'

Ramirez said he thought federal judges should be making between $150,000 to $200,000, about a third less than the average of $350,000 a partner in a major law firm could expect to earn.

A few months ago, Congress turned down a pay raise for its own members that also would have increased pay for district court judges to $120,000.

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