The General Assembly’s auditing arm recommended Thursday that lawmakers cut a total of $6.7 million from the Maryland Judiciary’s $695.5 million budget request for next fiscal year.
The Department of Legislative Services’ recommendation includes a $13.1 million cut due to what DLS auditors characterized as the Judiciary’s incorrect projections of salary increases for judges and clerks of the circuit courts in fiscal 2023, which begins July 1.
Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty told a House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday that the Judiciary concurs with DLS’s proposed reduction.
The $13.1 million cut would be partially offset by DLS’s recommendation that the Judiciary’s budget be infused with $6.4 million to assist the nonprofit Maryland Legal Services Corp. in providing representation for low-income tenants in eviction proceedings. The legal representation is called for under legislation enacted last year to provide “access to counsel in evictions.”
DLS’s analysis of the Judiciary’s budget request presumes the General Assembly’s adoption of the Judicial Compensation Commission’s call for a $10,000 salary increase for each of Maryland’s 320 judges beginning July 1.
The boost in judicial salaries and associated fringe benefits would result in $5.9 million in new spending next fiscal year, DLS stated. The Judiciary incorrectly earmarked $18.4 million in its budget request, a $12.5 million discrepancy, the auditors stated.
Similarly, the Judiciary had budgeted a $1.3 million boost in the salaries of the clerks of the circuit courts, while the auditors calculated the increase to be $719,389, a difference of $619,341.
DLS’s calculation is based on the presumed passage of pending legislation – Senate Bill 74 and House Bill 519 – that would raise the clerks’ salaries from a high of $124,500 to a maximum of $146,500.
Getty told the Public Safety and Administration subcommittee that the Judiciary had prepared its budget before the compensation commission’s recommendation for a $10,000 increase.
Under Maryland law, the proposed boost to judicial salaries would automatically take effect July 1 if the General Assembly approves the commission’s recommendation or takes no action.
The General Assembly could reduce but cannot exceed the commission’s proposed $10,000 increase. The legislature is also barred from reducing judicial salaries below their current level.
Since 2018, Maryland judges’ salaries have increased $5,000 annually. The commission’s proposed $10,000 yearly increase would remain in effect for four years.
Getty told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee this month that the boost is needed to keep judicial salaries competitive with what private sector attorneys are paid, thereby ensuring the judiciary attracts and retains bright and diverse legal minds.
“The salary differential adds a negative factor to the decision making process for lawyers who are 10 or 15 years into their career and looking perhaps at the Maryland Judiciary as a career option,” Getty said in support of Senate Joint Resolution 4, which reflects the commission’s recommendation. “Fewer (judicial) applicants impact the diversity of the bench and the range of experiences that lawyers can bring to a seat on the bench.”
SJR 4 has been crossfiled in the House of Delegates as House Joint Resolution 3.
Currently, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals is paid $215,433 annually, while the six other Court of Appeals judges are each paid $196,433.
The chief judge of the Court of Special Appeals is paid $186,633, while the 14 other Court of Special Appeals judges are each paid $183,633.
Circuit Court judges are paid $174,433.
The chief judge of the District Court is paid $183,633, while other District Court judges are paid $161,333.