Fair compensation for judges Commission review: Growing caseloads, other benchmarks support argument for raise.

March 02, 1996

A STRONG JUDICIARY is important for any state -- not simply for the orderly administration of justice, but also for its role in creating the stable climate necessary to a strong economy and a good quality of life. Maryland has been fortunate in that regard. The state courts have been free of the taint of corruption and, with relatively few exceptions, the state is served by competent and even distinguished jurists.

They are also working harder each year, as the number of cases increases without a corresponding rise in the number of judges. Chief Judge Robert Murphy, who oversees the state judiciary, also notes with pride that state judges, on average, take only three days of sick leave each year, while the average for state workers is almost nine.

Maryland's judiciary is in good shape. But it takes constant vigilance to keep the courts strong, and fair compensation is essential to attracting and retaining strong judges. The fact that judges are, on average, getting younger adds another dimensions. Younger judges are more likely to face college tuition bills and other child-rearing expenses that can force a painful choice between the high earnings available in private practice and the rewards of serving on the bench.

By law, a commission reviews Maryland's judicial pay scale every two years and must make a recommendation every four years. Judges last got a raise in 1991; a recommended increase in 1994 fell victim to the recession.

This year, the commission is suggesting increases ranging from 3 percent for the chief judge up to 10 percent for some judges. The increases will keep Maryland's judicial compensation in line with the growing demands of the job and with salaries in other states. They will also help keep a reasonable relation between state salaries and those of federal judges.

The fiscal impact on the state budget is modest -- some $3.5 million. That's a fair price for good judges, and a good investment in a sound system of justice.

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