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Fewer than two weeks after U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced a bill that would authorize more federal judgeships nationwide, a federal district judge in Los Angeles announced that he would resign on Nov. 2 because he can no longer afford to remain on the bench. U.S. District Judge Stephen G. Larson of the Los Angeles-based Central District of California said in a prepared statement on Tuesday that the failure by Congress to increase judicial salaries made it impossible to support his seven children, all under age 18. “The costs associated with raising our family are increasing significantly, while our salary remains stagnant and, in terms of purchasing power, is actually declining,” he said. “The short of it is that I know I must place my family’s interest, particularly the future of my children, ahead of my own fervent desire to remain a federal judge.” Larson, 44, who sits in Riverside, Calif., did not return a call for comment. Larson served as a magistrate judge in the Central District from 2000 until the U.S. Senate confirmed him in 2006 as a district judge. Before joining the bench, he was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Central District, serving as chief of the organized crime strike force in 1999 and 2000. He was a litigation associate at O’Melveny & Myers between 1989 and 1991. As a district judge, one of Larson’s most prominent cases was the high stakes copyright dispute between Mattel Inc. and MGA Entertainment Inc. over the rights to the Bratz doll. Earlier this year, Larson upheld a $100 million jury verdict for Mattel, which makes Barbie dolls. A second phase of that case is pending. Larson’s loss is particularly acute given his age, said Central District Chief Judge Audrey B. Collins. “He’s a young, active judge,” she said of Larson. “We are at that point where senior judges who stayed and contributed are now not staying, which is a huge loss. But now we’re having the problem of retaining active judges who are expected to give many more years of service.” Larson is the third district judge that the Central District has lost during the past year. U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi died on Aug. 4 and former U.S. District Judge George P. Schiavelli resigned in October 2008 to join dispute resolution provider JAMS. U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper has announced that she plans to work as a private mediator after retiring in March 2010. Two magistrate judges left during the past year. Just this week, Leahy and other congressional leaders told the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking arm of the federal judiciary, that judicial salaries remain a “serious and pressing issue.” The senators promised to speed up confirmation of judicial nominees and fill vacancies on the bench. On Sept. 8, Leahy introduced SB 1653, the Federal Judgeship Act of 2009, which would establish 63 new permanent and temporary judgeships across the country. It would be the first legislation in 19 years to address federal judgeships. “Federal judges are working harder than ever,” Leahy said in a written statement. “But in order to maintain the integrity of the federal courts and the promptness that justice demands, judges must have a manageable workload.” In the Central District, the average weighted caseload for the year that ended on June 30 was 611, 42 percent above the national standard, according to Collins. In announcing Larson’s resignation, Collins offered her support for Leahy’s bill, which would provide four permanent judgeships and one temporary judgeship in the Central District. The district now has 28 authorized judgeships serving 19 million people. Larson’s courthouse in Riverside is home to one of the largest home foreclosure rates in the country. Two years ago, California Chief Judge Ronald George was forced to dispatch more than two dozen judges from around the state to help process criminal cases in Riverside County Superior Court due to a shortage of judges. As a result, the annual number of cases removed to the federal court in the division that includes Riverside increased to 468 as of June 30, from 98 at the same point in 2008. Larson’s departure leaves one district judge remaining there. “Obviously, there’s a vacancy, and that will go through the normal procedure, of course,” Collins said. “But in terms of how to assist with the cases, how to deal with the current cases, the court is not going to wait. We’re having discussions about that now.”

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