The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 8, 2013

Somerset County discusses pay rates for its law clerks

Dave Sutor

SOMERSET — The Somerset County Salary Board is attempting to determine the value of services provided by full-time law clerks compared with other attorneys hired by the county.

At a recent meeting, President Judge John Cascio petitioned to increase clerks’ salaries to $55,000 for 2014, which would bring them in line with other lawyers, such as a recently hired Children & Youth Services solicitor and assistant district attorney. However, two county commissioners, Pamela Tokar-Ickes and Joe Betta, expressed concern that the positions might be too different to warrant the same financial compensation.

“From my background, solicitor and law clerk are two different things,” said Betta. “You can’t compare the two.”

Solicitors practice law; clerks do not.

“What I struggle with ... is that, in the interest of parity, I want to make sure that we’re comparing apples to (apples). ... My sense is there is a distinction between – with all due respect – a solicitor and a law clerk,” said Tokar-Ickes.

Cascio disagreed.

“I’m trying to make parity among the full-time attorneys who work for the county of Somerset,” he said.

Somerset’s law clerks earned $35,000 per year from 2005 through 2011 before receiving an increase to $42,000 at the start of 2012. Two law clerks, who are scheduled to make $42,000 this year, currently split their time working for three common pleas judges: Cascio, D. Gregory Geary and David Klementik. In the past, there was one clerk for each judge.

“These salaries have always been artificially low in my opinion,” Cascio said.

Board members also discussed the possibility of annually increasing the clerks’ pay with a cost-of-living adjustment, which Tokar-Ickes said she would be “willing to entertain.”

The board rejected the same idea for 2012 because clerks have traditionally been hired for only one-year periods, running from around Aug. 1 until the end of July the following year. “Frankly, I find that a distinction without a difference, but, to correct that, I have indicated to all of you (board members) that I intend to make these positions full-time and recurring,” said Cascio. “And, once we hire somebody, they can stay as long as we are satisfied with their performance or they choose to stay.”

The salary board tabled the entire discussion until a future meeting.

Salary discussion

What: Somerset County President Judge John Cascio has petitioned to increase law clerks’ salaries to $55,000 for 2014.

Response: The county salary board is attempting to determine whether the value of law clerks is equal to that of department solicitors and assistant district attorneys.

What’s next: The salary board tabled the entire discussion until a future meeting.

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