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Editorial Advisory Board: Paying judges fairly

The American Bar Association issued a report on judicial pay some years ago. In it, the ABA wrote, “high-level public servants understand that public service has its own intrinsic rewards and will never command the same salaries as the public sector. Public servants’ more modest salaries are supplemented by non-monetary rewards, the so­-called “psychic income “derived from the nature of their work.”

This, of course, includes judges no matter their employer, be it state, municipal or federal.

In Maryland, the Constitution appears to require that a circuit court judge reside in each county within a judicial circuit. Oddly this requirement and reference is made only to counties and not to the City of Baltimore although Section 20 references a circuit court for each county and for Baltimore city, meaning the city appears not to be unintentionally left out. Regardless, it is certainly a followed, if incorrect principle, that a judge sitting in a county or in the City of Baltimore must be a resident of that jurisdiction Judges adhere to this perceived or real requirement.

This requirement removes any discretion a judge may have in terms of where she may reside. A judge sitting in Baltimore city, for example, will not reside in rural Carroll County; a judge sitting in Montgomery County will not move to Washington County.

And, for purposes of this piece, judicial notice is taken that Carroll and Washington counties cost less to live in than do Montgomery County and Baltimore City. CNN reports that if a resident of Baltimore city earns $50,000 that resident would need to earn $65,534 to reside in Bethesda, Gaithersburg, or Frederick and have the same buying power.

The issue here is that Maryland circuit court judges each are paid the same salary regardless of where they are required to live. U.S. census data establishes that Allegheny County is the least expensive county to live in followed by Garrett and Somerset counties. Not ranking Baltimore city, the second most expensive county for cost of living is Prince George’s County followed by Montgomery County.

Another study reported that in order to equalize earnings to reflect the cost of living, a Montgomery County resident would need to earn $244,132 to equal $160,000 of salary paid to a Baltimore city resident. Accounting for much of that is the cost of housing, assuming ownership, but all measured costs are higher.

Judges living in the substantially more expensive counties and in Baltimore city have less salary than their counterparts in, say, Allegheny County to pay for the necessities of life and save for retirement and other costs, such as educating children. All these judges do the same work, they have the same responsibilities and they all serve the citizens.

We call upon the legislature to study and evaluate this inconsistency in earning power and provide an adjustment in salary to those judges who are required to reside in the most costly jurisdictions in Maryland. This is only fair, and it will enable the judiciary to continue to attract the best candidates for the bench and to best serve the citizens of the Free State.

Editorial Advisory Board Chair James B. Astrachan’s wife is Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Julie R. Rubin. Members Arthur F. Fergenson, Nancy Forster and Debra G. Schubert did not participate in this opinion.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

Gary E. Bair

Andre M. Davis

Arthur F. Fergenson

Nancy Forster

Susan Francis

Leigh Goodmark

Roland Harris

Michael Hayes

Julie C. Janofsky

Ericka N. King

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

L. Mark Stichel

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.