Lawyer to Head U.S. Courts Office

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. applauds as James C. Duff, right, new director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, greets retiring Leonidas Ralph Mecham.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. applauds as James C. Duff, right, new director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, greets retiring Leonidas Ralph Mecham. (By Lauren Victoria Burke -- Associated Press)
By Greg Stohr
Bloomberg News
Friday, April 21, 2006

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that his appointment of a new top administrator for the federal courts represents a "fresh start" in the judiciary's sometimes stormy relations with Congress.

Roberts yesterday selected James C. Duff, a Washington lawyer who served as an aide to two previous chief justices, as director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Duff, 53, will head a 900-person office that provides support for courts around the country and serves as the judiciary's liaison with Congress.

"It's a good chance for a fresh start and a renewed effort to improve relations," Roberts said yesterday in his first briefing with reporters since he took office in September. "This is a great opportunity for whatever disagreement or lack of communication that has built up, for that to be addressed."

Lawmakers and justices have traded barbs in recent years on a variety of issues, including some of the court's decisions. Last year, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said a spate of recent courthouse violence might be a result of judges making "raw political or ideological" decisions.

Earlier this year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she and retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor had received death threats that were sparked by proposals to bar judges from relying on foreign laws or court decisions.

Duff is the managing partner in the Washington office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. He previously served as administrative assistant to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and as an office and courtroom assistant to his predecessor, Warren E. Burger.

Duff is a 1981 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center in Washington and a former basketball player at the University of Kentucky, where he received his undergraduate degree in 1975. He replaces Leonidas Ralph Mecham, who is retiring after 20 years in the post.

Duff told a crowd of Administrative Office employees, "We're going to be the most responsive and respected office in the federal government."

Duff was selected from a list of 99 applicants after vetting by a search committee of judges and consultation with lawmakers, Roberts said. Duff "emerged as the clear choice," the chief justice said.

Roberts told reporters that the office's priorities would include an increase in judicial pay. Roberts pointed to what he said was a "growing number of judges leaving the bench" for private practice, where salaries can be many times higher.

As chief justice, Roberts makes $212,100 a year, while the other eight justices are each paid $203,000. Federal appeals judges make $175,100 and trial judges $165,200 annually.


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