Mike Franco for State Senate 2014! Message Board › Widmer no clue. But Ureneck asked, "Why give them more money?"
By Dan Ring, The Republican, June 9, 2013
BOSTON -- State judges, clerk-magistrates and assistant clerk-magistrates are in line to receive their first pay raises since 2006, under provisions tucked inside the state budget approved by state legislators and set to be signed by Gov. Deval L. Patrick.
In the $34 billion state budgets approved by the state House of Representatives and the state Senate, a regular associate judge's salary would be increased by 23 percent in three phases from $129,694 to $159,694.
Photo provided Roderick L. Ireland, chief justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court, would see a phased salary increase from $151,239 to $181,239, while an associate justice on the high court would receive an increase from $145,984 to $175,984.
In 2006, the last time judicial pay was increased, former Republican Gov. W. Mitt Romney vetoed 15 percent salary increases for judges, including six months retroactive pay, and for clerks. Legislators overwhelmingly voted to override those vetoes.
Patrick, a two-term Democrat, indicated he would sign the judicial salary increases when they reach his desk next month as part of the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.
Asked about a judicial pay increase, Patrick told The Republican, "It's well past time. I hope they do it."
The state House of Representatives voted 154-0 to approve the judicial pay increases; the Senate approved them on a voice vote. Both chambers included the raises as riders in their versions of the state budget.
Salaries for clerks of the courts will rise because their salaries are linked to a judge's pay in state law.
Pay for clerks in Trial Courts, including former House Majority Leader and East Hampshire District Court Clerk William P. Nagle Jr., Hampden Superior Court Clerk Laura S. Gentile and Springfield District Court Clerk John S. Gay, would jump by 22 percent in phases from $110,220 to $134,691. The pay for a register of probate is the same as court clerks and would also increase.
Assistant court clerks would receive a phased pay hike from $84,870 to $103,712. A first assistant clerk would receive a pay increase from about $92,000 to $112,466.
Under state law, clerks receive 81.57 percent of a chief justice's salary, which would rise from $135,124 to $165,124. Assistant clerks receive 77 percent of a clerk's salary and first assistants, 83.5 percent of a clerk's salary.
One critic, Paul D. Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said he would be opposed to the planned salary increases.
"The Legislature's plan to increase pay for state workers during a recession, when Massachusetts hasn't seen any net job growth in years, all while increasing taxes on taxpayers, stinks like a dead mackerel on a hot summer day," Craney said.
Judge James G. Collins, of Amherst, president of the Massachusetts Judges Conference, a voluntary professional association of judges, said courts are critical for businesses. He said an excellent judiciary is fundamental for a business comeback in the state.
Collins said the strongest argument for a pay raise for judges is that the increases were recommended in 2008 by a five-member independent advisory board on compensation co-chaired by Paul H. Guzzi, President & CEO, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Five years ago, the advisory board recommended that a judge's salary be increased to $160,000.
Collins, who is first justice of the Franklin and Hampshire Juvenile Court, said a survey by the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg , Va., found that salaries for judges in Massachusetts rank No. 48 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia after accounting for cost of living. If the salary was increased to $160,000, the state would rank No. 28 for a judge's pay, he said.
Collins said judges are responsible for assuring that justice is delivered in a fair and impartial way to the more than 42,000 people who use the courts daily.
"Do judges deserve to be paid this money?," Collins said. "We would respectfully and humbly suggest the answer is yes."
Another critic also questioned the pay raises.
"We don't think judges are doing a good job in providing justice," added Joseph A. Ureneck, chairman of the Fatherhood Coalition, which advocates for the rights of fathers in cases involving child custody, child support and restraining orders. "Why give them more money?"
When the salary increases for judges and clerks are fully phased in, the annual cost would be $23.2 million. Collins emphasized that the entire state budget of the judiciary is less than 2 percent of the state's $34 billion budget.
Judges and clerks in Massachusetts also receive retiree health care and other top fringe benefits.
At 65, with 15 or more years of continuous service, a judge, for example, can retire with a pension of 75 percent of a salary at the time of retirement.
Judges also receive 30 days of vacation, five personal days and a certain amount of days of educational leave.
The proposed salary increases for judges are also receiving strong support from business leaders.
Michael J. Widmer, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said the proposed salary increase for judges the fair and right thing to do.
"It's important to pay judges a decent salary in order to attract the highest qualified candidates," Widmer said. "When you are 48th in the country, you are not going to be able to do that."
According to the bills approved in the House and the Senate, a judge's salary would rise in three steps, first by $15,000, then $10,000 and finally, $5,000.
The pay increases would start in January 2014 under the House plan and in July 2014 under the Senate plan. The final step would take place in July 2015 under both plans.
Legislators are currently negotiating a compromise from the different versions of the budget.
Collins pointed out that Connecticut just increased pay for its judges. Salaries for regular judges in Connecticut will increase from $146,780 to about $155,000 on July 1, and then to $162,751 in July of next year.