State judiciary asks for raises, more judges

Pay increases through '08, 13 new judges proposed

February 02, 2005|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Maryland's chief judge pressed lawmakers yesterday to approve salary raises for the state's 272 judges and add 13 judgeships, including three in Baltimore City and two in Anne Arundel County.

In his State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell urged legislators to adopt the Judicial Compensation Commission's call for increases ranging from $15,000 to $30,000, phased in over four years.

"The real pay of Maryland judges has decreased over the years. Our regional rankings have declined, and significantly so," Bell told legislators.

Not counting cost-of-living adjustments, judges received two pay raises in the past decade, Bell noted.

The commission's proposed pay-raise package is nearly identical to one rejected last year by the General Assembly.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has included money for the first year of the raises in his current budget plan - just as he did last year.

The proposed raises vary among the levels of the court system. In the first year, which would start in July, they would be roughly 3 percent, costing less than $800,000. But in later years, the figures would rise sharply.

By July 2008 - the start of the final year of the raise - the plan would have boosted the annual pay of District Court associate judges by $15,000; of the District Court chief judge by $25,000; of Circuit Court judges by $20,000; of Court of Special Appeals judges by $25,000; and of Court of Appeals judges by $30,000. With the changes, judicial salaries would range from $127,252 for a District Court associate judge to $181,352 for the chief judge of the Court of Appeals.

After the speech, Court of Appeals Judge Irma S. Raker said Maryland ranks 31st in the country in judicial pay when salaries are adjusted for living costs.

Later, Bell told the House Appropriations Committee that lower salaries lead to judges retiring at a younger age, lawyers waiting for vacancies on the higher-paying federal bench instead of applying for state judgeships and a lack of diversity in the backgrounds of people seeking state judgeships. In addition, relatively new lawyers earn more after two years at a large, top-flight law firm in the state than do Maryland judges.

"I don't think that the entire four-year package will pass, but I think some would," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's Democrat, said after Bell's speech. He also said it is likely that Bell will get the new judgeships he seeks.

Of the 13 proposed new judgeships, seven would be in Circuit Courts: Two in Baltimore City and one each in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery, Washington and Worcester counties. The other six would be in District Courts: One each in Baltimore City, and Anne Arundel and Worcester counties; one shared by Calvert and St. Mary's counties; and two in Prince George's County.

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