District and federal officials have drafted legislation to give the city government authority over the local criminal justice system, and included a 10 percent increase for Superior Court judges in an apparent effort to win judicial support for the plan.
Local judges have expressed strong objections to the city's plan to shift the responsibility for criminal prosecutions and courthouse security from federal to local control and to give the mayor the power to appoint Superior Court judges. The appointments are now made by the president.
Some observers said yesterday that the pay increases could be an effort to defuse judicial criticism for the plan, which Mayor Marion Barry and other city officials consider a critical step towards greater home rule in the District.
"It was the city's bone that they wanted to stick out there to see if they could get [the judges'] support," one source said about the salary increase. Some judges were offended by the move, this source said.
What most concerns the judges about the transfer is that they would lose the services that have been provided by both the U.S. attorney's office and the U.S. Marshal Service, which is in charge of courthouse security, the source said. The judges are also concerned that the local government will not be able to supply the court with as highly qualified services, the source said.
Moreover, the source said, the judges are concerned that the quality of the bench may be harmed if candidates are no longer subject to what they consider a rigorous selection process now imposed by the White House.
Superior Court judges are now paid 90 percent of the salary set for federal trial judges, or about $49,050 a year. The pay raise would raise the local court judges' salaries to $54,500 -- the full rate for a federal trial judge.
Moreover, a decision by a U.S. District Court judge here last March cleared the way for his colleagues on the federal bench to receive a 12.9 percent pay increase, up to $61,500. That ruling, which has been appealed by the Justice Department, would also apply to Superior Court judges.
Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), chairman of the House District Committee, has agreed -- at the request of city officials -- to introduce the draft legislation on the transfer to the Congress. Meanwhile, Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D-Ky.), chairman of the subcommittee on the judiciary, man power and education is expected to conduct hearings on the bill on Sept. 23.
The bill was drawn up by D.C. Corporation Counsel Judith W. Rogers in conjunction with the Justice Department, Rogers said yesterday that she understood that the pay raise provision was included in the proposed bill because local judges and federal judges in the District handle similar cases.
When asked if the measure might promote support for the bill in the local court, Rogers said, "The city hopes the court is going to approve the plan regardless of that provision."
Donald M. Temple, staff counsel to the judiciary subcommittee, said yesterday that city officials had asked that the bill be introduced in draft form because "they'd like to get the legislation moving."
However, Temple said, "the bill isn't going anywhere" before Congress adjourns for its campaign recess in October.
Superior Court Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I said yesterday that he was unaware of any specifics about a pay increase. Moultrie said that the full court has not discussed the transfer plans since June 1979.
At that time, the court's board of judges sent an unusual, three page resolution to Mayor Barry that warned that inadequate planning for the transfer could create "a severe instability in the administration of criminal justice in the District of Columbia."
The judges reserved their most serious objections for the proposal to allow the mayor to appoint the local court judges. The Board of Judges, which represents all members of the local court, told Barry that their independence could be threatened if they were both appointed by the mayor and asked to preside over a court where most of the cases were brought by a local prosecutor.
In September 1979, Barry formally introduced the transfer plan, which would establish an office of the attorney general for the District of Columbia. That office would have both criminal and civil subdivisions to supervise all local prosecutions and civil cases.
Currently, federal and local criminal cases are prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office. Civil matters involving the local government and less serious criminal cases are handled by the corporation counsel's office.
The White House and the Justice Department support the transfer plan in principle, although the Justice Department has expressed concern that the often-criticized corporation counsel's office may not be able to handle a job done for so long by federal prosecutors.
Former U.S. Attorney Earl J. Silbert has said that he opposes the transfer because the unique status of the District of Columbia as the nation's capital requires the broader authority of a federal prosecutor.