- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2000

Judge Rosalyn Black Bell retired seven years ago but in title only. The jurist, who turns 77 next month, continues to work, although for only one-third of her last full-time court salary as a judge on Maryland's Court of Special Appeals.

Thomas Rymer, now 75, also was required by law to retire at age 70. He liked his job so much that he often works for free in Maryland's 7th District Circuit Courts, usually in Upper Marlboro.

They are two examples of more than two dozen judges who have retired but choose to continue working part time in Washington-area courts.

As in Maryland, judges in the District and Virginia are required to retire at age 70, although they can retire sooner if they have presided for an allotted number of years. Each jurisdiction has slightly different rules that preclude some retired judges from working in courts part time.

In Virginia, only serious illness enforced real retirement recently on William Murphy, whose efficiency and no-nonsense rulings impressed lawmen and lawbreakers alike in Prince William General District Court.

In the District, 17 so-called "sitting senior judges" return sporadically to relieve and work among the 60 full-time judges. But they can be paid only the difference between their annuities and the annual full-time salary of $141,300.

That's generally the way the pay scales are set in Maryland and Virginia, although they are calculated somewhat differently.

Court officials and lawyers say the retired judges are well worth the extra cost. They can fill in when an active judge is sick, on vacation or otherwise unavailable.

They help reduce backlogs of untried cases. Their experience often means quicker rulings and trials. Many are assigned to civil cases that often involve intricate law analysis more boring and tedious than criminal cases.

"We have no backlog," said Paul H. Weinstein, administrative judge for the Circuit Court in Montgomery and Frederick counties. "It's really been good. I do use retired judges regularly. It's cost effective."

"The really good thing about it is that it is considerably less expensive than getting new judges," said George B. Riggins Jr., coordinator for Maryland's Administrative Office of Courts.

Costs are reduced because retired judges do not have offices, equipment or staff. They typically work from chambers next to courtrooms, in temporary offices and conference rooms.

"We used them quite extensively," said Fred Hodnett, assistant executive secretary for Virginia's Supreme Court, where the chief justice decides which retired judges will be assigned.

Retired Virginia judges are often assigned to "one-day special cases," such as disbarments and civil cases, although they prefer criminal cases. They are paid expenses and $150 per day. "We've got a few who donate their time," Mr. Hodnett said.

The pay is a nice complement to Virginia judicial-retirement pensions, based on working salaries that ranged from $98,000 through $115,000.

In Maryland, retired judges get pensions equal to two-thirds of judicial salaries, ranging from $100,475 in District Court to $135,775 in Maryland's highest Court of Appeals.

After retirement, Maryland judges can be paid only one-third of their previous full-time salary. If they choose to work more, they work for free.

"We use them because we need them," said William D. Missouri, administrative judge for the 7th Circuit Court in Prince George's, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties. "I'm happy for whatever reason they work for free."

Judge Missouri is particularly happy to have former Court of Appeals Judge Howard S. Chasanow, 62, and former Circuit Judge Vincent J. Femia, 63, helping out. Both retired well before the state said they had to but couldn't stay out of the courtroom.

Judge Chasanow is "very important" in working out settlements of malpractice cases that otherwise would use a lot of expensive court time, said Judge Missouri.

Retired judges can do a lot of traveling, presiding over cases in other counties, sometimes even murder trials. Judge Chasanow, who retired in August, has a motto: "Have gavel. Will travel."

Before retirement, Judge Femia achieved local fame for conducting the "rocket docket," quickly disposing of daily pleadings. For a while, he went to Baltimore every Wednesday to help relieve crowded dockets, but now his retirement workload is to speedily clear the huge number of misdemeanor jail cases and appeals from Prince George's County District Court to Prince George's County Circuit Court.

For instance, after two days of delay caused by snow, Judge Femia and his equally speedy staff handled 318 cases on Feb. 28. On Thursday, they disposed of about 175 cases, including a trip to jail for about 50 defendants.

Judge Femia is concerned. No one is oriented to step in when he leaves the bench for good.

"I really don't have much longer," Judge Femia said. "And there's no one else who has any idea how this is done."

"Judge Femia, he's fun and he's also very effective at what he does. He gets cases resolved and out of the system quickly," said Robert C. Bonsib, a former prosecutor.

Mr. Bonsib also praised retired Judge Jacob S. Levin, 76, for working out settlements agreeable to attorneys on both sides, saying: "It's nice to get in front of a judge who's got experience. When you're ready to go, it's nice to get it going."

Lawyers generally like to work before the experienced retirees.

"I think it's great. I think that whole age-limit thing is arbitrary," said Rockville lawyer Judy Catterton.

"These retired judges have forgotten more law than most of us have ever known," said veteran criminal defense lawyer Victor Houlon in Upper Marlboro.

"Some are good. Some are bad," said Timothy Clarke, a lawyer in Montgomery County for 28 years, who praised James S. McAuliffe Jr., 69, as "superb at handling child-custody cases."

Retired judges returning part time is a relatively recent development.

"In the last five years, there are more of us have stuck around," Judge Bell said. "For a long time, nobody utilized it that much… . You never quite keep up with how many judges you need," she said. "I guess, really, I like to do it."

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