Judge bailing on $207,855-a-year ‘dream job’

To repeat, it’s all about the Benjamins.

As always, it’s about the Benjamins.

Meet Hal Naughton, a 63-year-old career Democrat back-bench state rep. Earlier this year Naughton scored the ultimate dream job of all hacks – a $207,855-a-year basically no-show job as a state judge.

But now, in what is surely the most shocking event of the year in the hackerama, Naughton has done the unthinkable. After six months, he has resigned from his welfare sinecure.

To repeat, it’s all about the Benjamins.

I always say, it’s not that all Massachusetts judges are bad. It’s only that 98 percent of them who make the other 2 percent look bad.

What makes Naughton’s departure such a man-bites-dog story is that no hack state judge ever quits, for one simple reason. In Massachusetts, a lawyer becomes a judge only if he or she is starving to death while actually trying to practice law.

That’s why bust-out barristers scrape together enough cash to basically buy themselves that sinecure, an annuity. It’s all legal of course – campaign contributions, they’re called. As with so many other things, the scandal about buying judgeships is not what is illegal, it’s what is legal.

Naughton, however, appears to be the first judge appointed in living memory who was in fact able to make some real dough – even if his score did apparently come as a surprise, because otherwise why would he have bothered to kiss all the rear ends he had to grab his early retirement.

In his prior small-time, small-town practice, Naughton somehow stumbled into a mega-settlement. Suddenly that $207,855-a-year slot on the dole, I mean the bench, looked like small change.

As a lawyer, Naughton was involved in a multi-billion-dollar civil suit in which local water utilities sued some very deep-pocketed chemical companies, including DuPont and 3M.

As part of the settlement, a motion has just been filed for legal fees and costs of $95 million.

In his letter of resignation, Naughton said he was making a decision that was “best for my children.”

It took a while, but I finally tracked the judge emeritus down. I asked him the only question that anybody cares about right now. How much is he grabbing out of the settlement’s $95 million in legal fees?

“I have no idea,” Naughton said.

Ten million?

“Oh geez, I don’t know about that!”

Five million?

“Really, I have no idea. You know, I had worked on that case for five years. It was coming to fruition.”

Yeah, I said, but you must be looking at some mega-bucks here, because you could have been a judge until you’re 70, which is over $2 million right there, for doing absolutely nothing.

And behind that comes the pension, plus after retirement you can stay on as a part-timer.

Not bad, I said, for a part-time job. I specifically used that word part-time, to bait him, because these judges always claim they’re working hard, as opposed to hardly working. But when I said “part-time,” twice, all Naughton did was chuckle.

I guess that’s the way it is when you hit the lottery. Suddenly a lot of what you used to bother you is no longer such a pressing concern.

I mentioned again to Naughton about how great it must be to make $207,855 a year for working part-time.

“It is a dream job.”

And do you know why it’s such a “dream” job? Because as a judge you get more time than people who have real jobs to actually dream, because not ever having to actually go to work means you can sleep late every morning.

And since you never work after lunch, you can take a nap every afternoon. For a Massachusetts judge, every day is like that line from the old Lovin’ Spoonful song – “What a day for a day dream!”

I told Naughton that I was going to write that he is about to collect “millions” of dollars. Agree or disagree, Judge?

“I don’t know. It remains to be seen.”

He says that the court case with $95 million in legal fees was “my baby, my case. It’s gonna clean up water for a lot of people.”

Yeah, and speaking of cleaning up, that’s exactly what a handful of lawyers are going to do. Which is how these civil cases always end up.

When I heard that Naughton was, literally, cashing out, I assumed that he would go out like the hack he is — grabbing another fat kiss in the mail, in the form of what is known in hack judicial circles as “involuntary disability provision.”

It’s the hack judges’ dirty little secret – a governor can designate an extinguished jurist as no longer able to perform his, uh, duties, and sort of de-commission him or her. The order then goes to the hock shop known as the Governor’s Council, which rubber-stamps it.

Automatic pension! Forget vesting! Disability – no taxes! It’s the hackerama!

Since 1991, 14 judges have checked out on the involuntary disability provision gag. Two of the tragically affected judges were, like Naughton, ex-state reps, another was a former mayor and a fourth was the top fundraiser for a governor.

These judges all had diseases, like kleptomania. Under Paul Cellucci, a payroll patriot named Donovan beat an OUI rap and then checked out on the grounds that his “obsessive-compulsive disorder” compelled him to “hours of handwashing.”

Well, at least the water will be clean now. Thanks Judge Naughton!

Another judge claimed that subjecting her to showing up for as many as 15-20 hours a week, 35 weeks a year – the usual judicial workload – amounted to “knowingly subjecting her to further traumatic events (a model for torture).”

I naturally assumed that Naughton, as a 25-year solon, who served under three convicted-felon House speakers and a fourth, unindicted co-conspirator, would be continuing the tradition. But no.

“The way it was explained to me,” he said, “you have to spend X number of years to get the judicial pension.”

And sure enough, he just quit, with no involvuntary blah-blah-blah. Naughton fed at the trough, but unlike all his colleagues in both the legislative and judicial branches, apparently he’s not planning to lick the plate.

So farewell, Hal Naughton. Enjoy the Benjamins. At least for once they won’t be coming directly out of my pocket.

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