ANNAPOLIS – After more than an hour of wrangling over numbers and percentages, the state Judicial Compensation Committee Tuesday recommended a $9,000 pay increase for state judges, including chief judges.
Current judicial salaries range from $89,200 for district judges to $124,500 for the court of appeals chief judge.
The proposal would mean a 10 percent increase for district judges, about 9 percent for circuit and special appeals judges and 8 percent for appeals judges.
The proposal, which was approved unanimously, will be submitted as a joint resolution to both houses of the Legislature Wednesday. Lawmakers have 50 days to act on the resolution or it automatically become effective July 1.
Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, who attended the meeting, was pleased with the decision.
“What they’re saying is you’re important, we recognize you’re important and ought to be compensated,” Bell said. “For us that is good news.”
Everyone on the commission agreed that a raise was necessary, especially after hearing results of a survey of former judges.
The Administrative Offices of the Courts conducted the survey of 36 judges who left the bench between Jan. 1, 1994 and Aug. 2, 1996, to gauge the reasons the judges had retired, said Sally W. Rankin, spokeswoman. Ten former judges responded, and while some retired because they reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, others listed compensation as a complaint.
* “The job was no longer rewarding and it was no longer an honor.”
* “It did not pay to stay.”
* “It seemed that after years of dedicated service, the compensation (both financial and emotional) were insufficient.”
One retired judge spoke more broadly to the issue of financial support for the courts: “Coming from the Legislature,” the former judge wrote, “I was eager to utilize my skills at reaching fair and just solutions. In most cases, the lack of resources made this impossible.”
Although most agreed that they had achieved a personal sense of accomplishment, at least one would not recommend becoming a judge to a friend, if the friend had school-age children.
Another would recommend that a friend become a judge, but would warn the friend about the low pay.
Martha F. Rasin, chief of the District Court of Maryland, told the committee that district judges faced increasing workloads, stress and security risks.
Commission members echoed her concerns when they discussed an appropriate raise. They also expressed frustration that Gov. Parris N. Glendening has said he will not give state employees a raise, except for state police.
“I feel very, very strongly that our judicial system needs to be protected, supported and encouraged,” said commission member Elizabeth S. Morrison, of Arnold.
Initially the committee intended to restore last year’s recommendation of about a 10 percent salary increase for all but chief judges. The General Assembly cut that request to a 3 percent cost-of living adjustment, which included chief judges.
Commission member Michael J. Conroy Jr., of Gaithersburg, suggested a 7 percent increase to make up the difference and acknowledge the cost-of-living increase.
“What really concerns us is providing the most effective judiciary we can for the state of Maryland,” Conroy said.
However, other committee members wanted the full 10 percent increase and let lawmakers cut it, if necessary.
Commission Chair Bruce Kaufman, of Baltimore, didn’t like the idea of asking for a high amount and then negotiating with the Legislature. He said that wasn’t the committee’s responsibility.
Committee member Charles R. Jenkins, of Berlin, disagreed.
“The judicial system is the glue that keeps the social fabric of this country together,” Berlin said. “Our focus is not whether the governor likes it or doesn’t like it, or our legislature likes it or doesn’t like it. It is protecting or judicial system.”
Ultimately, the commission recommended a flat $9,000 raise instead of a percentage increase to prevent widening the gap between circuit and district judges, especially since district judges’ caseloads have increased at twice the rate of circuit judges’ caseloads. They decided on $9,000 after comparing Maryland judges’ salaries to those of federal judges and other states’ judges.
Rasin was pleased with the committee’s decision.
“It’s gratifying that they endorsed what we felt ourselves.”
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