The Low Down on Judicial Salaries

Next Wednesday, May 16th, the Massachusetts Senate will release its proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget.  The Senate debate on the budget will begin the week of May 21st and the BBA is still pressing for more money for our justice system – in particular for our state courts and for civil legal aid.  The need for increased funding and the impact of an inadequately funded judiciary have been described most recently here and here.  Fundamental to the administration of justice – and an important piece of the justice system puzzle – is the full and fair compensation of our state court judges.  Being able to recruit and retain the highest caliber of judges is an integral part of our ability to provide the highest quality of service to all people who use our courts.

While we appreciate the gravity of the current economic conditions, especially when it comes to the state budget, it’s of serious concern that salaries for Massachusetts trial court judges rank 47th in the country.

Some sobering facts…

  • The last salary increase for Massachusetts state court judges was in 2006.  The previous salary increase was in 2000.
  • In 2008, Governor Patrick appointed the Advisory Board on Compensation, now known as the Guzzi Commission, to study 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 indexed to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Workers for the Northeast Region.
  • The National Center for State Courts released its latest Survey of Judicial Salaries in July 2011 with alarming news for Massachusetts.  The report found that Massachusetts judges’ salaries ranked in the bottom half nationally for judges in the highest court, appellate court and trial court.  With cost of living adjustments, Massachusetts Trial Court judges’ salaries rank 47th in the U.S.

The BBA has been looking at this issue for more than twenty years, and this issue has come into focus again with legislation that has been filed by Representative Ellen StoryH 2265, An Act relative to the compensation of judicial officers and cost of living adjustments, would provide our state court judges with adequate salaries and a mechanism for keeping them consistent with the cost of living.

In 1992 the BBA’s Committee on Judicial Compensation issued a report, A Call for Continued Excellence: Fair Compensation for Our Judges and Judicial Employees, concluding that by almost every relevant statistical measure, compensation levels for judicial system employees are inadequate.  The Report went on to say that the inadequacies in compensation levels have a negative impact on the ability to retain experienced judges and court personnel, efforts to recruit qualified candidates and morale of court personnel.  The Report also recommended that a permanent mechanism be established whereby judicial salaries would be indexed to the inflation rate or to cost of living increases.

The BBA revisited the issue in 2000.  That group’s report, Judicial Salaries in Massachusetts, concluded that judges in Massachusetts remain under compensated compared to judges in other states, the federal system and to junior attorneys.

H 2265 is consistent with the principles that the BBA supports on this issue: adequate compensation of judges and the institution of a permanent mechanism that makes annual adjustments to reflect cost of living increases.  These things are fundamental to the administration of justice and need to remain a high priority regardless of the economic straits of the Commonwealth.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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