Tag Archives: Pay Raise

Building Bridges Between the Statehouse and Courthouse

It’s been almost five years since the Massachusetts Trial Courts instituted a hiring freeze resulting in staff reductions, processing delays, personnel shortages, and strained clerk and registers offices.  It came as no surprise in September 2011 when the Trial Court announced that it was reducing public access to clerks and registers offices in an effort to deal with the impact of the freeze.

With clerks and registers offices closed at certain times, staff had the opportunity to prepare cases for court sessions and to complete case processing — including filing, docketing, and scanning.  The changes in public hours helped more than 30 court locations get back on track.  In some Probate and Family Courts, registry counter and phone hours were restricted after 3 p.m.  In Lawrence Probate and Family Court, the registry closed from 1-2 p.m. and in several district courts, counter and phone coverage was restricted.

This week, the Trial Court announced that all offices will return to a full schedule of public office hours as of September 3rd.  That is welcome news and reflects the court’s commitment to rethinking its operations without increasing its budget. 

With a capable management team led by Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence, the Trial Court is working to implement its recently approved strategic plan.  The plan focuses on increasing effectiveness and addresses the current and future needs of our judiciary as it continues to serve the people who use the courts each day.  Thanks to these and other steps, productive conversations about efficiency, effectiveness, and the administration of justice with legislators and lawyers are now moving forward.

Perhaps most importantly, these developments have built a bridge between the courthouse and the state house.  The judiciary will finally see its first salary increase in the last sixteen years thanks to recently enacted legislation.    

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Judges’ Pay Raise a Must: No Need For Further Study

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
Comments are disabled for this blog. To submit your comments please e-mail issuespot@bostonbar.org

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