D.C. federal appeals court Judge Edward A. Tamm has an idea about how to get federal judges to work faster. It's called hitting them where it hurts.

Chief Judge Spottswood W. Robinson last week told a judicial conference that starting in September judges who have three or more written opinions pending for more than six months will not receive any new cases until they clear their backlog at least down to two cases.

A bold move, some might say, but apparently not bold enough for Tamm. A day after that announcement, Tamm floated his proposal to a panel of judges and lawyers at the conference.

The "expeditious" way to deal with tardy judges, Tamm says, would be to have a federal statute which would hold up the paycheck of any federal judge who didn't dispose of a case within 60 days after time of the hearing.

How was the proposal greeted? "With an overwhelming lack of response," Tamm said in a recent interview. Everyone was too stunned to reply, one participant said.

Chances for passage? "Well, I don't think there is anything less than zero," he said.

The problem here is serious, Tamm said, noting that the D.C. Circuit is the slowest in the country, four times slower than some of the other circuits. He said it takes a minimum of six months for the court to produce written opinions, in part because his colleagues feel obliged to write lengthy ones.