State's attorney's salary law could be revisited

Shellenberger, officials to discuss pay calculations

May 16, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,sun reporter

Facing criticism over his salary, Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said he plans to meet with state lawmakers to discuss possible changes to the law that determines how much he is paid.

Shellenberger, a Democrat who took office in January, is scheduled to make about $190,000 this year - slightly more than the final salary of his predecessor, Sandra A. O'Connor.

At issue is whether Shellenberger's pay should be calculated based on how much O'Connor earned after three decades in office, or whether he should be paid the lower amount that Circuit Court judges make - as some interpret state law.

The law ties the state's attorney's pay to the judges' salaries, plus 5 percent annual increases. O'Connor's salary increased by that percentage every year after the law was passed in 1982.

Shellenberger reads the law to say that the salary is attached to the position, not an individual. County Executive James T. Smith Jr., a fellow Democrat, agrees with that interpretation, and has included money in the county budget to pay him at that rate.

But others - including O'Connor and Stephen Bailey, a Republican and a former deputy state's attorney - read the law differently. The salary should revert to that of a Circuit Court judge every time a different prosecutor takes office, with 5 percent annual increases thereafter, they say.

Under their interpretation, Shellenberger would be paid about $128,000 in his first year.

Left untouched, the salary for the county state's attorney would be close to $500,000 in 20 years.

Criticism over Shellenberger's salary first appeared in an article published last week in The Jeffersonian.

"The Baltimore County state's attorney salary is really out of line with what other people in county offices are making," said Bailey in an interview.

Shellenberger said he decided the formula needed to be changed after last week's news report.

"While the salary, to me, seemed in line right now, when you do it extrapolated out 37 years from now, it does look a little out of whack," Shellenberger said. "When it was designed in 1982, I don't think anyone had the math or the foresight to project it out as far as some folks are right now."

Shellenberger said he plans to meet with state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. and Del. Eric M. Bromwell, who chair the county's state legislative delegation, to discuss potential legislation to change the salary formula in next year's General Assembly session.

The position's salary is set by state law but is paid by the county government.

The County Council is scheduled to approve a budget this month. Two council members said they believe O'Connor's salary amount should be carried over, based on legal advice from the panel's counsel.

A spokeswoman for Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said the office has not been asked for an opinion on the law.

Stone, a Dundalk Democrat, said he had not been aware of the questions about the state's attorney's salary and said he wanted to meet with Shellenberger before deciding whether changes are needed.

O'Connor agreed that the law needs to be studied.

"I think obviously there's a disagreement as to how it's read, and it's something the legislature should clear up," O'Connor said.

Sun reporter Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.

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