October 13, 2011

Commission recommends $29,000 pay hike for all judges

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

The Judicial Compensation Commission unanimously voted to recommend that the General Assembly increase judges’ salaries by $29,006 phased in over three years and starting in fiscal year 2014 — similar to a recommendation for a higher pay raise it made last year two years ago that the legislature rejected unanimously ignored.

A gavel.With the pay raise, in fiscal year 2016 the judges of the Court of Appeals would make $191,358 (chief judge, $210,358); judges on the Court of Special Appeals would make $178,558 (chief judge, $181,558); Circuit Court judges would make $169,358; and District Court judges would get $156,258 (chief judge, $178,558).

The commission recommendation includes no change in the salaries judges would earn in fiscal 2013, starting next July. This has already been projected as a year of slow economic growth for the state and the outlook is “less than rosy,” said commission member Edward Gilliss, who suggested no salary change for the budget the governor will send the legislature in January.

“This way, there is no immediate impact, but the opportunity for higher judicial salaries in years to come,” Gilliss said.

The recommendation is almost identical to the one made by the commission when they last met in 2009. The recommendation is that all judges – from the chief Court of Appeals judge down to District Court judges – should receive about a 6% raise each year, starting in fiscal 2014. The total amount all judges are paid would go up 6%. The annual percentage increase for individual judges varies based on the level of court where that judge presides; judges with lower salaries would see a higher boost in pay.

The recommendation is no surprise. At their first meeting last month, commission members unanimously agreed that judges need raises.

Since the legislature ignored an identical recommendation two years ago as budgets tightened, commission members thought that delaying the raise for a year would allow for more leeway – and give their recommendation more of a chance of being considered.

“I like that this will cushion the bump, take the pressure off,” said member Raymond Langston.

The commission was also directed to make a recommendation about the judicial pension plan. During the last General Assembly session, a 2% increase in employee contributions was instituted for executive branch and education employees. Judges’ pension contributions were left to the Judicial Compensation Commission to make a more complete recommendation.

Members voted that newly appointed judges should have to contribute 8% of their salaries to the system, starting on July 1, 2012. The rest of the active judges should continue to give the 6% contributions they pay now. All members present but Thomas Barbera voted for the increase.

While commission members saw that requiring judges to pay more is fair, many said that the fact that judges were asking for a raise means they need more money in their salaries.

“They’re not going to take that home more now if we increase contributions to 8%,” said member Alice Pinderhughes.

The 351 retired judges get an average annual pension of $68,000 a year.

The commission will send its recommendations in a formal report to Gov. Martin O’Malley and the legislature. O’Malley’s wife, Catherine Curran O’Malley, is a district court judge.

The governor and other state elected officials, including members of the legislature, have not had a pay raise since 2006, and are not eligible for one until after the 2014 election.