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Claiborne Would Lose Lucrative Benefits If Removed From Judgeship

July 24, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Imprisoned federal judge Harry E. Claiborne faces loss of a lucrative, optional retirement program for judges if he’s removed from office in a Senate impeachment trial.

He also would lose the chance to assume senior status, a way to remain on the bench at full salary but with a reduced workload.

Claiborne, the chief U.S. district judge for Nevada, became the 14th federal official impeached by the House when lawmakers voted 406-0 on Tuesday to recommend his ouster.

Before sending the case to the Senate for trial, House members expressed outrage that the judge is collecting his $78,700 salary while serving a two- year prison term for tax evasion.

And they noted that the retirement and senior status programs await Claiborne in September 1988 unless the Senate removes him from the lifetime job.

Removal from office would deprive Claiborne of both options, according to Dan Cavan, a legislative affairs official of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Meanwhile, the Senate Rules Committee was to meet today to agree on procedures for the first impeachment trial in 50 years.

Among the issues: who will preside, whether other Senate business can be transacted during the trial, and whether a committee of senators instead of the full body should hear the evidence.

The committee idea has never been used. While both Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan. and Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. have talked favorably of the concept to avoid tying up the Senate, other senators have raised the question of its constitutionality.

The Constitution simply states that ″The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments″ and does not specify whether the full Senate must be present for all proceedings.

Since federal judges are appointed for life, they never need to retire. However, beginning at age 65, they can either reduce their workload or leave the bench altogether at full salary if they have enough years of service.

Claiborne, 69, a Democrat appointed in 1978, could not take advantage of either program until Sept. 1, 1988, according to Rep. Hamilton Fish, R-N.Y., a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Fish argued it is imperative to remove Claiborne before then.

Under the reduced workload senior status program, judges continue to receive not only full salary, but any increases given active federal judges.

Since a vacancy is created when a judge takes senior status, the court system can have more judges hearing cases at a time when caseloads are straining the judiciary’s ability to handle them.

As an alternative, a judge can leave the bench altogether at full salary, but would not be eligible for pay increases. The judges do not contribute any money to the program.

To be eligible for either program, a judge must be 65 years old and have 15 years of service. With each additional year of age, the service requirement drops, so that at 66, only 14 years are required. At age 70, the service requirement drops to 10 years.

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