Judges need a $29,000 pay raise, legislators are told

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By Daniel Menefee

Seven members of the Court of Appeals

Seven members of the Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court (2011 photo)

Maryland’s 284 judges are in desperate need of a raise, Court of Appeals Judge Clayton Greene Jr. told the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday.

Greene testified  in support of a resolution to raise all judicial salaries by $29,000 over the next four years — up to 23% for some by 2016 — and said increases were needed to keep top talent on the bench.

“If you adjust for judge’s salaries by the cost of living index, Maryland ranks 43rd in the nation,” said Greene.

Greene said the private sector and judiciaries in Delaware, D.C., Virginia, and Pennsylvania lure away talent with higher pay. He said many judges with college-bound kids consider the private sector because of looming tuition bills.

“It’s not fair, nor it is a way to run a judiciary,” Greene said. “I’m suggesting we pay them a more reasonable salary. Even a cost of living increase every two years would be better than what we have now.”

Maryland judges last received a raise in 2006. Under the current resolution, salaries will remain at the current level for fiscal 2013, then increase 23% by 2016. The legislature has 50 days to reject or amend the resolution or the increases are automatic.

The legislature rejected the recommended pay hikes in 2009 and 2010, years in which state employees got temporary pay cuts through furloughs.

The increase will cost Maryland taxpayers $14 million, according to the fiscal note from the Department of Legislative Services. District Court judges would see an increase from $127,000 to $156,000 by 2016. A chief judge on the Court of Appeals would jump from $180,000 to $210,000.

Elizabeth Buck, chair of the Judicial Compensation Committee, said a study conducted by the commission showed first year lawyers can command up to $160,000 from firms in the Baltimore-Washington region.  A chief judge in the Court of Special Appeals earns $153,000.

Lack of applicants from private sector

The past president of the Maryland State Bar Association, Cornelius Helfrich, expressed concern about the quality of applicants and their backgrounds. He lamented to the committee that the majority of new applicants come from existing government pools and lack the “leavening effect” that comes from private sector experience.

“There is a noticeable increase in government employees applying for consideration as a judge,” said Helfrich, who’s been in private practice for 45 years. “That’s a troubling trend. They’ve never made a payroll or had a client who was threatening to sue them. “

Helfrich said the applicant pool should come from private and public sector backgrounds.

Greene told the committee that the judiciary had an average age of 50. Judges can retire at 60 after 16 years of service.

“More and more judges will leave the bench unless they are assured their pay will not be stagnant if the stay on,” Greene said.

Del. Mary Washington, D-Baltimore City, agreed that compensation for judges was important, but she took issue with Greene and Helfrich that salary was the only tool to attract top talent. She said graduates from top universities work for public interest groups at significantly less pay.

“Their salaries come nowhere near $140,000 a year,” Washington said. “These are excellent people who’ve made a choice.”

About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. anonymous

    this is laughable. as has been mentioned, the pension and benefits system in retirement for judges is incredibly generous. If a judge works 15 years at 150k (present value including benefits, something private attorneys pay out of their own pockets) but then gets 30 years of state subsidized healthcare plus 2/3 salary (let’s call it 100k present value per year) his real salary for those 15 years is in excess of 400k, especially when you consider the tax advantages of delaying compensation. On top of that, if the judge was an assistant state’s attorney before elevation, they get that pension as a local pension on top of their state pension. If anything, the current system grossly overpays for district court judges and circuit court judges in most counties.

  2. Current state employee

    Why not note the incredible pension judges receive.  I believe it is 2/3’s  of their salary which of course means their pensions will rise along with their compensation.  They can also earn the remaining 1/3 of their salary in retirement if they sit on the bench for a number of days (the exact number escapes me) but I know they all try to do it.  Regular state employees have had one $750.00, one time only raise in four years.  What kind of talent do you think that gets the citizens of Md.  How about a commission to study what the regular employee gets paid compared to other states.   Some judges may work hard but so do the rest of state employees. 

  3. John D

    Time to throw out the judges. Stop sending them back

  4. Frank Van

    This move is way over due.  The quality of the Judiciary is extremely important for all citizens.  Attracting and retaining talent is the most important aspect of a healthy and well functioning judiciary.  It preserves the moral and intellectual integrity, which results in an efficienttly operating bench with few judicial reviews and enhanced respect.  These characteristics do benefit the State tremendously and do actually save money for the judiciary itself, but even more important for society as a hole.  The experience of private practice is an indispensible component of a balanced judgement for a judge.  An efficient and well regarded judiciary also attracts business, because they will be treated fairly and in a timely fashion.  Talent brings results, everywhere, but particularly in Maryland with such a high component of intellectual services.

    • John D

      Too bad they deserve no salary increase. They should go back to private practice where they can earn more then. Did you forget the 20 billion dollar deficit.

  5. Anonymous

    More lefty logic. This is the same logic the Party of Crime (the Democrats) used to justify increasing the alcohol tax: compared to other states, Maryland lagged.  Judges should serve because they WANT to, not because they want to make money. Simply disgraceful, Dems, simply disgraceful.


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