Maryland’s 320 judges will receive a $10,000 salary increase for each of the next four years beginning July 1 under a joint General Assembly resolution enacted this month.
The judicial salary boost was adopted by operation of law when the Senate and House of Delegates declined to hold a vote this session on what is now labeled Joint Resolution 2, which called for the raise recommended by the state Judicial Compensation Commission.
As of July 1, the chief judge of Maryland’s top court will have a salary of $225,433, while the six other Court of Appeals judges will each be paid $206,433.
The chief judge of the Court of Special Appeals will have a $196,633 salary, while the 14 other Court of Special Appeals judges will be paid $193,633.
Circuit Court judges will be paid $184,433.
The chief judge of the District Court will have a $193,633 salary, while other District Court judges will be paid $171,333.
Every four years, the governor-appointed compensation commission issues its recommendation on boosting judicial salaries. The 2018 legislative cycle provided a $5,000 annual increase for judges.
Under Maryland law, the recommended raise automatically takes effect July 1 – the start of the state’s fiscal year — if the General Assembly approves the commission’s recommendation or takes no action within 50 days of the resolution’s introduction.
The General Assembly can reduce but cannot exceed the commission’s proposed increase. The legislature is also barred from reducing judicial salaries below their current level.
Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty defended the then-proposed $10,000 raise before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in February. He called the raise necessary to keep judicial salaries competitive with the higher compensation private sector attorneys receive and to ensure 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. “Fewer (judicial) applicants impact the diversity of the bench and the range of experiences that lawyers can bring to a seat on the bench.”
Getty will derive no personal benefit from the $10,000 boost because he will hit Maryland’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 on April 14.
Court of Appeals Judge Jonathan Biran cited National Center for State Courts data in telling the Senate committee that the national ranking of how well Maryland judicial salaries keep pace with the cost of living dropped from between five and eight slots among the 50 states and the District of Columbia over the past four years.
“What all of these figures tell us is that over the past four years Maryland hasn’t kept pace with other high cost-of-living states in terms of judicial salaries,” said Biran, who chaired the Judiciary’s internal work group on judicial compensation.
Pressing for the salary increase, Maryland District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey told the Senate panel that as a first-year associate at a large Baltimore law firm he could expect to be paid more than $20,000 above his current $183,633 salary.
“I fully understood that when I applied for a judgeship that I’d never be paid equivalent to what they pay in private practice and for me personally the salary really wasn’t the story. It was more about service,” Morrissey said. “I can tell everyone that it has been an honor and a privilege to serve as a judge for these last 16 years, but life is expensive and I think we all have bills, and I’ve got children in college now and any increase that you can see fit to our salaries would be greatly appreciated by not only me but my colleagues.”
Baltimore County Circuit Judge Stacy A. Mayer told the Senate committee that judges, like other public servants, place the job ahead of salary but only to a point.
“While compensation is critically important to attract good people, we’re not necessarily in it for the money,” Mayer said.
“But the numbers in terms of the applicants and what has to be given up in terms of a practice is very concerning,” she added. “It is hard to give up your life’s work, which is what attorneys do to take a judicial job, particularly when you have to run for election and you very well may quickly lose … and have to start all over and that is, in particular, what our circuit judges face.”