Other battles on the horizon for the NCBJ were increasing bankruptcy judges’ salaries, tying the salaries statutorily to those of Article III judges, and improving retirement benefits.
David W. Houston (N.D. Miss., Ret.) recalls that the Reagan Administration proposed to set the statutory salary level for bankruptcy judges at 81 percent of a district judge’s salary. The Judicial Conference adopted a resolution to support the rate at 92 percent. However, at that point, the efforts of the Judicial Conference and AO to support a salary increase stopped. AO legislative counsel Bob Feidler actively delayed and impeded Congressional consideration and passage of salary legislation. David Houston recounts the “the strategy to enact the salary legislation originated in the Senate with Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, a Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.” In a meeting attended by Ralph Kelley and David Houston, Senator Cochran suggested an alliance with South Carolina Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, the Democratic Chair of the Appropriations Committee. Ralph recruited District Judge Solomon “Sol” Blatt, Jr. (D.S.C., Ret.), a close friend of Senator Hollings, to enlist Senator Hollings to team up with Senator Cochran. Together, Senators Cochran and Hollings spearheaded passage of the amendment to 28 U.S.C. § 153(a). Tennessee Senator Jim Sasser and Tennessee Representative James H. Quillen, friends of Ralph Kelley and George Paine who were on the Senate-House Conference Committee considering the legislation, held out in favor of the legislation. George remembers Ralph buttonholing members of the conference committee when they went in and out of the conference room.
On December 22, 1987, the President signed into law legislation amending 28 U.S.C. § 153(a) to provide that a bankruptcy judge’s salary is 92 percent of the sal ary of a district judge, effective October 1, 1988. David still pictures George and himself “presenting a plaque to Senator Cochran commending his guidance and support on our behalf in getting this measure passed.” Immediately prior to the salary adjustment made under the amendment, a bankruptcy judge’s salary, fixed by the Judicial Conference, was 81% of the salary of a district judge.