The independent Judicial Compensation Commission recently reported its findings to the Maryland General Assembly, which presented them to the Senate and House of Delegates in the form of Joint Resolutions. Our state's judges have not received a raise since 2006, and our Circuit Court judges' pay, when ranked alongside that of their national peers and adjusted for the cost of living, ranks a pathetic 43rd in the nation.
Just as we take understandable pride in the first-in-the-nation ranking of our state's educational system, we should be suitably embarrassed by the poor ranking of our judicial compensation — embarrassed not simply by the aforementioned statistic itself, but also by what it says about our state's under-appreciation of what our judges do on a daily basis. In order to attract new, qualified candidates to the bench and to retain the judges currently serving, competitive judicial compensation is necessary and appropriate.
That Maryland's judiciary is neither an agency of the executive branch nor a creation of the legislature is something that is often forgotten. We say we want public safety, but we will have none without the judiciary. We claim to want order and domestic tranquillity — but for that too we need the judiciary.
It is critical that the judiciary be a separate and equal branch of government, as the Founding Fathers intended. In his "Thoughts on Government," John Adams wrote: "The dignity and stability of government in all its branches, the morals of the people, and every blessing of society depend so much upon an upright and skillful administration of justice, that the judicial power ought to be distinct from both the legislative and executive, and independent upon both, that so it may be a check upon both, and both should be checks upon that."
In a letter to George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson used virtually identical language, while Alexander Hamilton proclaimed in language which should be emblazed above the doorways of our Statehouse: "Laws are a dead letter without courts to expound and define their true meaning and operation."
"Nothing can contribute more to the independence of judges than a fixed provision for their suppor!" noted Hamilton. Maryland's civil and criminal caseloads are burgeoning. Our 284 state judges — well educated and, by dint of study and experience, learned in the law — have kept their faith and given us a society we would not otherwise have. It is time they were appropriately compensated for their dedication to upholding the rule of law.
Henry E. Dugan, Jr., Baltimore
The writer is president of the Maryland State Bar Association.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun