The seven judges of the Maryland Court of Appeals have approved a proposed rule under which all state judges will give up either five days of vacation or a comparable amount of their pay to help Maryland's ailing budget.
"These are emergency, critical times," said Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy of the state's highest court. "The loss of five days wouldn't be too severe a price to pay."
Under the Maryland Constitution, the Court of Appeals adopts rules of judicial administration that have the force of law. The proposal was approved last night.
Currently, judges receive 27 vacation days, three personal days and 14 holidays. They can bank up to 20 vacation days.
Administrative Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan of the Baltimore Circuit Court had suggested two alternatives to Murphy's proposal. One would allow judges to buy back their vacation days from the state. The money would be deducted from their paychecks and given to the state as a charitable donation.
The appellate judges, in agreeing to consider that suggestion, said they were not opposed to it so long as it did not cause tax or administrative problems.
Kaplan's second suggestion -- to allow judges to carry over the five vacation days to the next year -- was rejected by the appellate court because the option would not apply to non-judicial courthouse employees.
"The public perception will be we haven't suffered a damn
thing," Murphy said.
Last night's 2 1/2 -hour informal hearing was convened after Murphy received several letters from judges opposing his plan to return about $7 million from the judiciary to the state by Jan. 1 by having the judges give up five days of vacation.
In order to solve the state's budget problems, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has asked all state employees, including himself, to take furloughs of up to five days, depending on their salaries.
In a further effort to reduce costs, several judgeships have been left vacant and a hiring freeze has been implemented throughout the state's judicial system. However, those efforts are not enough, Murphy said.
Administrative Judge J. William Hinkel of the Baltimore County Circuit Court said that while many people feel judges get too much vacation, the time off is necessary to help the judges recover from dealing with an overcrowded court system.
"I, like these other trial judges, need those vacation days," Hinkel said. "I, like these other judges, use them to recharge my batteries."
"This time away from the courthouse I think is critical. By asking us to give up five days, I think it sends the wrong message. It implies were not working hard enough," Hinkel said.
He said the implication was both demeaning and demoralizing.
"When I first heard of this, I'd felt like I'd been a bad boy," Hinkel said. "I can tell you I haven't been a bad boy, and I don't deserve this."