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Plan would raise judges’ pay by 6% a year

The Judicial Compensation Commission unanimously voted to recommend that the General Assembly increase judges’ salaries by $29,006 phased in over three years and starting in fiscal 2014 — a similar recommendation to the one it made in December 2009, which the legislature rejected.

The recommendation — under which all judges should receive about a 6 percent raise each year — is no surprise. At their first meeting last month, commission members unanimously agreed that judges need raises.

With the pay raise, in fiscal 2016 the judges of the Court of Appeals would make $191,358 (chief judge, $210,358); judges on the Court of Special Appeals would make $178,558 (chief judge, $181,558); Circuit Court judges would make $169,358; and Maryland District Court judges would get $156,258 (chief judge, $178,558).

The recommendation includes no change in the salaries for fiscal 2013, starting next July. This has already been projected as a year of slow economic growth for the state and the outlook is “less than rosy,” said commission member Edward Gilliss, who suggested no salary change for the budget the governor will send the legislature in January.

“This way, there is no immediate impact, but the opportunity for higher judicial salaries in years to come,” Gilliss said.

And, since the legislature ignored an identical recommendation two years ago as budgets tightened, commission members thought that delaying the raise for a year would give their recommendation more of a chance of being considered.

“I like that this will cushion the bump, take the pressure off,” said member Raymond Langston.

The commission was also directed to make a recommendation about the judicial pension plan. During the last General Assembly session, a 2 percent increase in employee contributions was instituted for executive branch and education employees. Judges’ pension contributions were left to the Judicial Compensation Commission to make a more complete recommendation.

Members voted that newly appointed judges should have to contribute 8 percent of their salaries to the system, starting on July 1, 2012. The rest of the active judges should continue to give the 6 percent contributions they pay now. All members present but Thomas Barbera voted for the increase.

While commission members saw that requiring judges to pay more is fair, many said that the fact that judges were asking for a raise means they need more money in their salaries.

“They’re not going to take that home more now if we increase contributions to 8 percent,” said member Alice Pinderhughes.

The 351 retired judges get an average annual pension of $68,000 a year.

The commission will send its recommendations in a formal report to Gov. Martin O’Malley and the legislature. O’Malley’s wife, Catherine Curran O’Malley, is a district court judge.

The governor and other state elected officials, including members of the legislature, have not had a pay raise since 2006, and are not eligible for one until after the 2014 election.

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