After a four-year salary freeze, Maryland's judges are seeking a pay raise of up to $30,000 over four years for some members of the bench, a request that appears to have support from top legislative leaders for at least some level of increase.
Speaking before the House Appropriations Committee yesterday, senior judges and advocates for the pay raises told lawmakers that the talent pool is evaporating because salaries in Maryland's judiciary are falling behind other jurisdictions and pale in comparison to those in the private sector.
"We just believe the judges aren't fairly compensated," said former Sen. Laurence Levitan, chairman of the Maryland Judicial Compensation Commission, which recommended the raises.
Levitan's commission recommended increases of $15,000 over four years for District Court judges, $20,000 for Circuit Court judges, $25,000 for Court of Special Appeals judges and $30,000 for Court of Appeals judges. The raises, which were included in the governor's proposed budget, would be phased-in over a four-year period that would begin July 1, according to the commission's report, released last month.
Judges salaries now begin at $111,500 for the District Court and top at $131,600 for the Court of Appeals. The chief judge of each division receives slightly more for handling administrative duties.
Under resolutions before the House and Senate, the judges' raises would go into effect automatically unless the legislature rejects the proposal.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he believes the judges are due a raise but added that some lawmakers would like more attention paid to increases for district and circuit judges because of they have the heaviest caseloads.
"The vast majority of the workload is on the district and circuit court leaves," Busch said. "Obviously, judges deserve a raise like any other state employee."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the state will have to balance the desires of the judges with those of clerical and staff personnel working for the bench to ensure all are appropriately compensated, even as the government is cutting programs to resolve a potential budget shortfall.
"These are difficult financial times," Miller said. "The judges need a pay increase, but we're also hearing from their employees and staffs."
Lawmakers, who themselves received automatic pay increases that will give them as much as $43,500 by 2006, do not have to vote to approve the pay increases for the judges.
So "we're asking you to do nothing," said Howard County District Judge James N. Vaughn, chief of the District Court.