January 14

Lawmakers back compromise on bigger raises for Maine judges

Pay would increase 4% in each of two years, in a state with judicial salaries ranked second-lowest in the nation.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A legislative committee advanced a compromise measure Tuesday to give the state’s judges more than the 3 percent pay increases they are scheduled to receive in July.

click image to enlarge

A committee has endorsed a pay-raise proposal by Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, above. The plan offers “a little bit of progress,” said Saufley’s liaison, Mary Ann Lynch, and would cost $180,000 in the next fiscal year.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Judiciary Committee was scheduled to discuss a bill carried over from last year that would have given all of Maine’s 60 judges a bigger increase and cost the state about $511,000.

Instead, the committee voted, with several members absent, to support the compromise introduced by a legislative liaison for the state Judicial Branch, which would cost about $180,000 in the next fiscal year.

Maine’s judges are among the lowest paid in the country. According to the most recent data compiled by the National Center for State Courts, in 2012, the pay for Maine’s trial judges ranked 49th among the 50 states, and the pay for associate justices of the Supreme Judicial Court ranked 50th compared with supreme and appellate court judges in other states.

Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel for the Judicial Branch, said the Legislature waived its statutory requirement to give the state’s judges 4 percent cost-of-living increases in six of the past 11 years.

The judges got their first pay increase in years – 3 percent – last July, after the Legislature lifted a statewide pay freeze. The judges are scheduled to get another 3 percent increase this July.

In the compromise that Lynch presented on behalf of Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, she proposed that the Legislature make good on its statutory requirement for 4 percent increases last year and this year. “It’s still substantially below other states, but it’s a little bit of progress toward what the Judicial Compensation Commission recommends,” Lynch said before the vote.

The bill to increase judges’ pay was initially introduced last year by Linda Valentino, D-Saco, the Judiciary Committee’s Senate chair, on behalf of the Judiciary Compensation Commission.

It called for increasing the annual salaries for the 51 judges in the District and Superior courts by more than $12,000, from $115,346 to $127,629.

It would have increased the salaries of the chiefs of the District and Superior courts from $120,510 to $133,374. It would have raised the salaries of the six associate justices of the Supreme Judicial Court from $123,080 to $136,214, and given Saufley a raise from $142,298 to $157,475.

Saufley and Joshua Tardy, chairman of the Judicial Compensation Commission, appeared at a public hearing in April to support Valentino’s bill. They testified that salary increases are needed to attract highly qualified attorneys to the bench, provide a diverse group of judicial applicants, retain current judges and avoid demoralization.

The committee, however, voted to delay consideration of the bill when it became apparent that funding was not available, Valentino said last month.

The bill now needs to pass in the House and Senate, and receive funding approval from the Appropriations Committee.

About 10,000 other Maine state employees, including those in the Judicial Branch, got their first raise in about five years – 1 percent – through a cost-of-living adjustment in September. The state lifted its long-imposed pay freeze in July, the start of the fiscal year.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

Twitter: @scottddolan

 

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