Hartford (AP) — A statewide panel is preparing to review the compensation of Connecticut's judges, who haven't had a pay raise in five years and whose salary level has declined to 45th in the country when adjusted for cost of living, according to a national court organization.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last month signed legislation creating the 12-member Commission on Judicial Compensation, which is expected to begin meeting in September and must issue its first recommendation on judges' annual salary rates by Jan. 2. The panel will meet every four years to propose annual compensation rates for each of the next four years, and its recommendations must be approved by the legislature and the governor as part of the state budget process.
All Superior Court judges have been paid about $147,000 a year since their last raise in 2007. That's the 14th highest salary level in the country for general trial court judges, but 45th in the nation when the state's high cost of living is factored in, according to the National Center for State Courts. The average trial court judge's salary nationwide is about $137,000 a year.
State Supreme Court associate judges make about $162,500 a year, ranked 17th in the country for top state court judges without considering the cost of living, the national center says.
Connecticut Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, who makes about $175,600 a year, told state lawmakers earlier this year that judges' salaries need to be increased to attract the highest-caliber candidates for the bench.
"I know a number of people who have spoken to me confidentially and said, 'I cannot ... afford to do this when I've got two kids in college and I'm making a better living in private practice,'" Rogers told a legislative committee in March, referring to conversations about becoming a state judge.
"I understand that's not true for everybody," Rogers said. "But again, do you really want to close off that end of the pool (of judge candidates) when what they're saying is we understand that we're not going to make as much money as a judge that we do in private practice?"
The annual mean wage for lawyers is about $146,000 in Connecticut and about $130,500 nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The agency says Connecticut's mean wage is the fifth-highest in the country.
But Rogers and officials in Malloy's administration note that it's not certain whether the commission will recommend salary increases. By law, the panel must consider several factors when determining appropriate pay levels, including the compensation of judges in other states and the state's ability to pay for salary increases.
"The ability of the state to pay is going to be critical," said Joseph McGee, one of two people named to the commission so far and a former state Department of Economic Development commissioner.
But, McGee added, "You want to make sure the level of the compensation attracts high-quality judges."
Officials also say the new commission was set up to take politics out of setting judges' salaries, as much as possible. Recommendations for those salaries were previously made by another commission that also proposes pay levels for state legislators and constitutional officers.
Appointments to the new bipartisan commission are being made by Malloy, Rogers and legislative leaders from both parties. Rogers has named McGee and former New Haven state Rep. William Dyson to the panel, while other appointments are upcoming.
Besides stagnant pay, state judges also have had to take unpaid furlough days in recent years like most other state employees. But they are paid mileage to go to work at the federal reimbursement rate of 55.5 cents per mile, unlike most state workers.
Andrew McDonald, Malloy's general counsel, said he knows of at least two judges who have left the bench because the pay was too low.