A moonlighting Superior Court Judge in New Jersey has just been told to clean up his act; that is, he can't be both a stand-up comic and a sitting judge. One old-time judge protested stagnant judicial compensation by selling hot dogs at Yankee Stadium. He too was given a choice: quit the stadium or quit the Court. And even Judge Judy had to leave the bench to become "Judge Judy."
There has long been zero tolerance for members of the judiciary earning money in the private sector. But now, we New York judges who, despite lawsuits, letters, lobbying, emails, phone calls, and begging the much-criticized legislature and various governors, haven't had a pay raise or cost-of-living increase for a dozen years, have been granted some relief. The Chief Judge has lifted the ban on moonlighting.
True, we've had some limited rights -- an honorarium for a lecture at a public institution, let's say, or performing a wedding ceremony for a maximum of $100. But with this announcement there is a sea change. Of course, we still cannot practice law -- which is pretty much all we know how to do; we can't speak out or comment on cases or issues that might come before the court -- any court -- and we must not do anything that would denigrate the judiciary or interfere with our judicial duties. At $136,700 a New York State Supreme Court judge, like myself, is paid more than most Americans, but far less than scores of first year lawyers who appear before us. And, it smarts to be ranked 50th in the nation for judicial compensation, especially if you're in New York City.
With the Chief's announcement of the rule change, I am remembering opportunities lost. There was the time a friend was interested in buying another friend's apartment. They didn't know each other, so I would have been the logical broker. But, alas, judicial ethics forced me to stay far away from the transaction, and a pretty good fee. Another time, a well-known entertainment-world couple, asked me to mediate their out-of-court child custody battle. "Sorry. No can do."
Now I'm all fired up and ready to go. But how can I explain to interviewers or on computer forms what I've been doing since law school? I can't say I've been home raising children for 20 plus years. Or that I've been in jail. Or even rehab. Potential employers glancing at my résumé might notice the J.D., and a Master's from Columbia Graduate School or Journalism. They might say I'm over qualified. Or lack relevant experience. Or am too old.
Since I haven't looked for a job outside the judiciary recently, I've hardly noticed that jobs are no longer advertised in newspapers, but on-line. Of course, the job I do have wasn't exactly advertised in the papers either. Still, I'm barely computer literate, and am already befuddled by the sites I've sound such as Chronicle of Philanthropy, JobFox, Imaginista, Media Bistro. And there's another problem. Job applicants must be fluent, not in French or Latin, but in HTML, Unicode, Photoshop.
So how about bartending? While, admittedly, I have no experience, if I could memorize the Uniform Commercial Code, I'm pretty sure I could conquer the recipe for a dirty martini. I did inquire at one East Village spot, but was told I'm too short. Too short? I wondered if that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Probably not, because it seems that "top shelf" liquor, really means top shelf -- which I couldn't reach.
Anyway, the place was filled with gorgeous twenty-somethings who might be reminded of their mothers, thereby reducing their consumption of alcohol -- a definite disincentive to hiring me. Of the few remaining small stores in my neighborhood, two have signs in English and Spanish seeking help. But they also say, "retail experience required." Well, I do have a great deal of retail experience -- shoes, bags, cosmetics, you name it, but it's all been on the purchasing end. Further down Broadway, the marquee at the multiplex theater announces in digital letters, "we are always looking . . . dedicated . . . career track . . . ."
That, too, requires an on-line application. But when I had to check the little boxes asking date of birth, I didn't see any years earlier than 1985. That meant if I was actually hired to sell or collect tickets or dish out tubs of popcorn, I'd likely be taking a job from an unemployed teenager or a young student. So I did not press "send." Next, I thought of Filene's Basement, since I could walk to work on Saturdays and Sundays, saving my minimum hourly wage for, well, shopping. But one of my colleagues who both married and inherited money chastised me, saying that would be very demeaning to the judiciary; to her.
Well, then, how about the perfume counter at Bergdorf's? More upscale, to be sure, but they're not hiring until the holiday season. Then, too, I realized that their schedules and mine wouldn't be a match, since, luckily, I still do have a full-time day job and it can extend into evenings and weekends. Looking for other alternatives, I called one of my best friends who, has kept active his taxi driver's license, the one he used to support himself while in law school 40 years ago. Last year he requested administrative approval to use it, but was informed that driving a cab is not allowed. All that's changed now, but still, unfortunately for me, that license is one piece of paper I never got.
A job at Barnes & Nobles would satisfy my craving for books, but it might have put me into the middle of a proxy fight. Teaching would seem to be a natural option and I did apply to teach a college course. Yet, I was turned down since the other piece of paper I do not have, in addition to a hack license, is a Ph.D.
Well, I won't be selling hot dogs. But I can now sell my fascinating life story to a television or cable network; I can safely deposit any advance for my book on marriage and divorce, maybe even appear in commercials as a judge of whatever product is being advertised. Or if JLo backs out, maybe I can be a judge on American Idol. After all, it's only one night a week and it pays well. The rest of the time I'll be working for the public, dispensing justice at the County Courthouse.