By Len Lazarick

The Maryland Senate Monday night gave final approval to a $20,000 pay raise for 312 Maryland judges over the next four years, $15,000 less than was recommended by the Judicial Compensation Commission in January.

The pay raise in House Joint Resolution 3 as passed by the Senate and House also will boost the pensions for 417 retired judges and their surviving beneficiaries by as much as $13,340 a year since those payments are based on the salaries of current judges.

Each current judge would get a $5,000 raise on July 1 for the next four years.

This will bring the salaries of 173 circuit court judges up to $174,433 by mid-2021 and the pay for 117 district court judges, the lowest paid of the jurists, up to $161,333. This represents a 13% hike compared to current pay for circuit court judges and 14% for district court judges.

The chief judge of the Court of Appeals will get $215,433 beginning July 1, 2021, when the final pay hike kicks in. The six associate judges of the Court of Appeals will make $196,433.

The chief judge of the Court of Special Appeals will make $186,633, and the 14 associate judges will make $183,633, as will the chief judge of the district courts.

Other salaries that are pegged to judicial salaries will also rise, including those for the 10 members of the Workers Compensation Commission, some state’s attorneys and magistrates.

The total cost of the pay raise and fringe benefits is about $2.3 million a year, for a total of $9.4 million by fiscal 2022.

This apparently does not include the increased cost of the pensions for retirees, which come out of the state pension system, not directly from tax revenues.

Generous pensions

Judges have some of the most generous pensions of state employees, getting up to two-thirds of the pay of a sitting judge after 16 years of service. They contribute 8% of their salary to the pension system, but stop paying into it after 16 years.

The term for appellate and circuit judges is 15 years, but they may run for reelection. The term for district court judges is 10 years, and they may be reappointed by the governor.

According to the 2017 annual financial report of the state retirement system (page 138), retired judges and their beneficiaries get an average of $75,200 in pension benefits per year. Retired jurists, who must retire at age 70, may also return to the bench and continue to hear cases, making up to the full salary of a sitting judge.

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