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Barbera presses Md. lawmakers for judicial raises

Under Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, the Court of Appeals has about six weeks and just 25 opinions to go to fulfill her promise of deciding every case in the same term in which the court heard it. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

‘Judges’ salaries have not kept pace with inflation,’ Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera told lawmakers Tuesday, calling the void ‘a problem that threatens to be chronic.’ (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s top jurist Tuesday urged state lawmakers to raise judicial salaries for the first time in three years, saying continued wage stagnation will discourage the best qualified attorneys from applying for the bench.

“Public service entails financial sacrifice,” Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera told the House Appropriations Committee. “(But) that sacrifice cannot be so great as to deter well-qualified candidates from the Judiciary.”

Barbera, among other judges, spoke in favor of a proposed joint resolution that calls for judges to receive a $10,000 raise on July 1, the first day of fiscal year 2019. The judges would then receive annual raises the next three fiscal years for a total boost of $35,000 as of July 1, 2021.

The resolution reflects recommendations the Maryland Judicial Compensation Commission made last month to raise judicial salaries for the first time since July 1, 2015, and to preserve what Barbera called the Judiciary’s vitality.

“Judges’ salaries have not kept pace with inflation,” Barbera said, calling the void “a problem that threatens to be chronic.”

Maryland law prohibits the General Assembly from amending the judicial-salary resolution to increase the proposed raises, but lawmakers are permitted to reject the resolution, adopt it as proposed or approve it with reduced raises. If the General Assembly fails to act on the proposed resolution within 50 days of its Jan. 24 introduction, the proposed raises would go into effect.

The resolution would boost Barbera’s salary to $205,433 as of July 1. Court of Special Appeals Chief Judge Patrick L. Woodward’s salary would climb to $176,633 and John P. Morrissey, chief district court judge, would have a salary boost to $173,633.

The salary of Court of Appeals judges would rise to $186,433, and Court of Special Appeals judges’ pay would increase to $173,633.

Circuit Court judges would receive $164,433, while a district court judge’s salary would increase to $151,333.

Woodward told the House committee the proposed increase would put the Court of Special Appeals judges’ salaries on a par with the average pay of law-school professors. He said judges’ pay should be at least at the same level as those who train the next generation of lawyers.

“The quality of justice depends upon the judges,” Woodward said.

Baltimore County Circuit Administrative Judge Kathleen G. Cox, chair of the Conference of Circuit Judges, said “we still attract qualified applicants” but that a raise is needed to “attract and retain” a strong bench.

Appropriations Committee members gave little indication of whether they will vote in support of House Joint Resolution 3 and send the measure to the full House. But Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, joked that a raise might entice some attorneys on the panel to leave the General Assembly for a judgeship.

A companion measure, Senate Joint Resolution 5, is pending in the Senate.

Taking stock

In its report on the proposed raises, the Judicial Compensation Commission compared Maryland’s judicial salaries to those in the other 49 states.

The panel found Barbera’s current salary ranks 10th among the 50 state supreme court chief judges and behind the neighboring states of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia. The salary of her Maryland Court of Appeals colleagues ranks 13th among state supreme court judges nationally.

Maryland Court of Special Appeals judges rank 19th among intermediate state appellate courts, the commission found. Maryland’s circuit court judges’ salary comes in 21st nationally among courts of general jurisdiction.

Under the proposed joint resolution, the judicial salaries would increase by another $10,000 in fiscal 2020 and then $7,500 in each of the next two fiscal years.

Thus, as of July 1, 2021, the Court of Appeals chief judge’s salary would be $230,433; the Court of Special Appeals chief judge would be paid $201,633; and the chief district court judge would get $198,633.

The salary of Court of Appeals judges would be $211,433; Court of Special Appeals judges would get $198,633; circuit court judges would receive $189,433; and district court judges would be paid $176,333.

Judicial Compensation Commission members are named by the governor, the leaders of the Senate and House, and the Maryland State Bar Association.

Elizabeth Buck chairs the commission. The other members are Norman Conway, Edward Gilliss, Van Mitchell, Alice Pinderhughes, Joshua Schmerling and John Suit II.

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