Public employees’ salaries are always a sensitive topic, and pay raises for public employees are even more so. But it’s time that the Legislature addresses the compensation of a particular group of public employees — our state court judges. When we last reported on judicial compensation, Massachusetts ranked 47th in the nation. The only thing that has changed since then is that Massachusetts is now 48th. Vermont is 49th and Maine is 50th. The salary for a state court judge is currently at $129,694. It’s time to make the case that the Legislature needs to pay our judges adequately.
Judicial compensation is directly related to our focus on court reform. The judiciary’s ability to provide high quality service to all people who use our courts is a matter of great importance. The Governor appreciates the significance of adequate compensation for our judges, particularly from the perspective of trying to recruit the best and the brightest. Recently, Governor Patrick filed a supplemental budget that, if passed, would create an advisory commission to study judicial compensation. The last thing we need is another study. In 2008, the Guzzi Commission studied the adequacy of compensation of high-level officials in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government. The Guzzi Commission’s recommendations included a salary increase for judges.
We don’t need another commission. We need the Legislature to respond to the Governor’s nod and appropriate the $21 million needed to increase the salaries. The Judiciary’s proposal for a salary increase, if enacted, would bump Massachusetts up to 29th in the nation, not even in the top 25 percent
Judicial compensation is given as the primary reason attorneys with broad knowledge of the law, sufficient trial experience, and appropriate judicial temperament are reluctant to apply to be judges, absent family money or a highly compensated spouse. And the gap between what a judge earns on the bench in contrast to what lawyers earn in private practice continues to widen because judges have not received a raise since 2006.
A judge is responsible for making decisions that have profound impacts on people’s lives — their families, their property, their safety, their liberty, and their businesses. We need judges with the legal expertise necessary to understand the nuances and complexities of our laws who are at the same time capable of understanding the real world impact of their decisions.
Not only will a failure to increase judicial compensation diminish the ability to attract and retain qualified judicial candidates, but at some point it’s going to harm the reputation of our judiciary.
Adequate compensation of judges with adjustments made annually to reflect cost of living increases is more than a matter of equity; it’s a smart thing to do.
– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association