Judges: Work four years for 100k-a-year pension

When Gov. Dannel Malloy nominated a batch of judges this month, state Sen. Andrew Maynard promptly issued a press release, praising the selection of two nominees from Noank.

"I congratulate the governor for nominating two exceptional candidates from southeastern Connecticut to the bench," Maynard said. "Both are distinguished attorneys with long records of public service and as judges they will carry out their duties with distinction."

What the senator from Stonington left out of his congratulations, for someone he called a "dear friend," Steven Spellman, and Timothy Bates, "a friend and neighbor since childhood," is that neither would serve on the bench for too long.

Bates and Spellman are also, if confirmed, big winners in the judge's pension lottery sweepstakes, a shameful government giveaway that Maynard and his colleagues should end.

The way the generous pension lottery works for Connecticut judges is that you have to retire when you are 70 and you then immediately receive two thirds of your salary for the rest of your life.

In the case of Bates, now a practicing attorney in New London, he will earn the base salary of $154,559 if confirmed as a Superior Court judge.

Since he will be 66 years old next month, he will serve only about four years before retiring, with more than $100,000 a year for the rest of his life.

If he lives to the age of 90, he will have scored some $2 million in pension money, for having worked four years.

He can also keep working past 70, taking cases on a per diem basis, at a rate of more than $200 a day, in addition to the 100k.

No wonder Maynard was congratulating him.

Spellman, who will be 63 in June, will have to work longer for his payoff.

But then Spellman, who preceded Maynard in the Senate, is already safely and comfortably on the state payroll.

Spellman went successfully through the revolving door for state legislators, who take state jobs after they leave office, usually earning much bigger salaries than they did as legislators. At the same time they improve their final state pensions.

Spellman makes more than $100,000 a year as a director of government affairs for the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. It's an odd resume item for someone appointed to the bench.

But then probably no one thinks that judges are nominated only on the basis of their experience, things that might make them good judges. Naturally politics plays a big role.

I wasn't able to find all the ages for the Malloy March nominees. But I know at least one of them is even older than Bates and will serve only about three years before he starts cashing in that $100k in annual pension benefits. He is also a former state senator.

If Sen. Maynard spent less time issuing press releases congratulating his dear friends for hitting the pension lottery, he could spend more of his time in Hartford safeguarding taxpayers' money.

He and others could start with pension reform, at least correcting the crazy loophole in the system for judges.

How hard could that be, if you really want to get it done.

I would bet a retired judge's per diem pay that it won't happen before these lucky judge pension lottery winners make it to the bench.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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