As a newly created committee begins meeting to discuss judicial salaries in Connecticut, the state judicial branch has offered up a detailed proposal that would boost annual pay for most judges by about $45,000 or more over the next four years.
In a 20-page report, Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers calls for the state's judges and judicial magistrates to receive a pay increase of about 11.3 percent next year and 5.5 percent for each of the three following years. That would boost salaries for the state's 162 Superior Court judges, for example, from $146,780 now to $163,416 next year and $191,890 by fiscal year 2017.
In calling for the increases, Rogers notes that state judges haven't had a pay increase in five years, that judicial salaries have risen less than 1.65 percent annually in the past decade and that Connecticut now ranks 45th overall in judicial pay, when the state's cost of living is factored in.
The initial 11.3 percent increase, Rogers stated in the report to the 12-member Connecticut Commission on Judicial Compensation, would bring salaries to where they would have been if judges had received cost-of-living increases, linked to inflation, over the past decade. The first year of raises would cost the state an estimated $3.8 million.
"As public officials, judges do not expect to become wealthy," Rogers wrote. "But fairness and the need to retain highly qualified jurists require that judicial salaries maintain their value. Protecting the compensation of Connecticut's public officials against inflation is essential to prevent genuine hardship over time, hardship that increasingly discourages recruitment and retention of talented individuals."
Rogers' proposal will no doubt launch a spirited debate. In recent months, some members of the legal profession have worried that below-market salaries had caused many experienced judges to step down and go into private practice. "I would guess (and this is just a guess) that more judges have left the bench in the last five years or so, than the number who left in the preceding 10 to 15 years," Superior Court Judge Barry Stevens wrote in a letter to Connecticut Law Tribune columnist Dan Krisch, who has written about the "trickling exodus" of judges.
Others have said that, given the still-struggling economy and the state's budget woes, this is an inopportune time for judges to request a large pay increase. They note that, even with the static pay in recent years, the state has no shortage of lawyers who want to be judges.
Representative Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, noted the outrage that erupted earlier this month when it was revealed that the state Department of Higher Education had awarded raises of up to $48,000 to 21 staff members. "This is the wrong time to be asking for substantial increases in compensation," said O'Neill, a member of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. "Any increase is going to be difficult to sell, given the fact that we have an ongoing budget deficit [and] enormous debt from unfunded liabilities."
PRIVATE SECTOR RELUCTANCE
The judicial branch report, bolstered with graphs and narrative arguments, compares judges' salary increases with employees in other branches of government and with unionized employees.