- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Judges would get pay increases of $8,000 or more next year if the legislature accepts the recommendation of a commission that found judicial salaries are lagging behind those of lawyers at major firms in Maryland.
Laurence Levitan, a former state senator who is chairman of the Judicial Compensation Commission, said yesterday that salaries need to be increased to make judicial appointments more attractive to lawyers in private practice.
"People say judges get paid more than the average citizen, but lawyers get more than the average citizen, too," Mr. Levitan said.
The commission proposed a 5 percent increase in judicial salaries for fiscal year 2003, which begins July 1, but delayed the increase to Jan. 1 to reduce the total cost to the state to an estimated $724,800 for the coming year. The cost would increase to $1.4 million the following year, when the higher salaries would be in effect for an entire 12 months.
The pay raises would be in addition to a cost-of-living increase proposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening for all state employees. The governor included money for a 2 percent across-the-board increase, but also delayed the pay raise for six months.
If judges get both, salary increases would range from $8,000 for district court judges to $10,800 for the chief judge of the Court of Appeals.
The General Assembly can adopt the proposed salary scales, approve smaller increases or reject the commission's recommendation altogether. If the legislature does not act by March 7, the pay plan will become law.
Sen. Robert Neall, Anne Arundel Democrat, said there was no strong opposition to the commission proposal when it was presented to the Budget and Taxation Committee.
"I'm hoping we will be able to approve it intact," Mr. Neall said. "Judicial salaries aren't keeping up with income changes that have been taking place in the legal profession."
Proposed salary increases have been reduced or rejected by legislators in recent years.
Opponents question the need for higher salaries, noting that there are always plenty of applicants when a vacancy opens on the bench.
Mr. Neall and Mr. Levitan said while there are people who want to serve on the bench, most of them come from a government background, having worked as prosecutors, public defenders or assistants to the state attorney general.
"There's nothing wrong with that. Those candidates are excellent," Mr. Neall said.
But he said lawyers from private practice are needed to provide a balanced judiciary.
Mr. Levitan said private-sector lawyers are needed because "they have dealt with business issues, as opposed to basically dealing with criminal issues."
"It's always been my feeling that a circuit court judge's salary should be equal to the pay of a midlevel partner in a major law firm, Mr. Levitan said. "That's probably $150,000. We're not going to get there, but we can certainly get up to $125,000."
He said the commission proposal would also be a first step toward making the salaries of Maryland judges more on a par with federal judges, who have higher salaries and the added guarantee of a lifetime job.


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