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Federal judges around the country will feel the belt-tightening that has cut into other areas of the judiciary in a rule change that limits the hiring of permanent, career law clerks, rather than cheaper term clerks fresh from school. The change, approved on Sept. 18 by the judiciary’s 27-member policymaking body, the Judicial Conference of the United States, will save hundreds of millions of dollars in salary costs during the next decade, according to an internal report by the Committee on Judicial Resources. In addition, the Judicial Conference voted to make transcripts of federal district and bankruptcy court proceedings available online, 90 days after they are delivered to the clerk. The 90-day delay allows court reporters to continue the immediate sale of transcripts of proceedings, a significant source of income for court reporters. One clerk per judge But it was the law clerk proposal that kicked up the most dust among issues on the conference agenda. It passed after more than an hour of closed-door debate and proposed changes to the law clerk limits. The conference approved the final version overwhelmingly, according to David Sellers, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. In the future, judges will be limited to one career clerk per chambers, a retreat from the recent trend of judges employing more career clerks and fewer term clerks who serve usually for a year or two after leaving law school. Judge Royal Furgeson Jr. of San Antonio, who headed the committee that developed the plan, said shortly after the vote, “If we are going to keep our fiscal house in order, we have to deal with the future growth of compensation in the courts.” The amended plan allows more protection for existing career clerks by allowing them to retain their lifetime positions even if their judge dies, retires or otherwise leaves the bench. The new provision grandfathers in the career clerk services if another judge consents to taking them on, according to Sellers. The plan was also changed to extend the potential time of service for term clerks from three years to a maximum of four years, according to Furgeson. The plan also limits matching pay for term clerks who are hired from private practice, he said. Both changes may reduce what had been projected to be a saving of $223 million to $280 million during the next decade, but it is not known precisely how much, he said. Sellers said the law clerk limits are seen as an important indication that the judiciary is an important part of the cost containment. In recent years, the clerks’ offices, probation offices and courthouse construction projects have faced serious cutbacks. This indicates the judges are full partners in cost control, he said. The original recommendations, which came from the Committee on Judicial Resources, stirred opposition among some judges who want the freedom to employ more career clerks. Judge Connie Callahan of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento, Calif., has said that the change will interfere with judges’ ability to produce the best opinions. Callahan, who came out of California’s state appellate system, which relies more heavily on career clerks, fired off a letter of opposition to the committee signed by 22 judicial colleagues.

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