Published April 01. 2014 4:00AM
Connecticut must reform a system that provides lavish pension payments for judges regardless of how brief their tenure on the bench. Granted, reducing the pension largesse for judges will have only a miniscule impact in the context of overall state spending. Yet the current policy is so excessive that it demands change.
The Connecticut Constitution requires that judges retire at age 70, sort of. When they retire, they are eligible to receive a pension equivalent to two-thirds of the salary for Superior Court judges, now $154,559. That means a paycheck of $103,039, plus a 3 percent annual cost-of-living increase and lifetime health coverage.
One can argue whether this is excessive, but what is certainly outrageous is that a judge qualifies for these pension benefits no matter how few the years he or she served on the bench.
The Hartford Courant recently reported, for example, that Democratic National Committeeman Anthony V. Avallone, recently nominated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for a judgeship, is 66 and so will have to retire - to that great pension - in under four years. There seems no doubt the former state senator will win confirmation.
Providing a couple of local examples, Day columnist David Collins pointed to the nominations of New London attorney Timothy Bates, who turns 66 this month, and former state Sen. Steven Spellman, 63.
And while judges must technically retire at age 70, many continue serving on the bench, but under the titles "trial judge referee" or "senior judge." carrying out many of the same functions. For this post-retirement work, they get $232 per day, rising to $244 on July 1, while at the same time getting their pension payments.
Adding to the stench that something is rotten in Hartford is the political nature of these judicial appointments; as the Courant also noted, among Gov. Malloy's 16 recent judge nominees there were 14 Democrats, no Republicans (one nominee is registered as unaffiliated, a second as an Independent).
Judges should have to serve some reasonable amount of time, a decade at least, to qualify for pension benefits. Conversely, if the legislature were to insist on some pension compensation, it should at least be pro-rated to years of service, with a much smaller pension for those on the bench a few years.
Lawmakers should also reduce or eliminate the lifelong health coverage and cost-of-living increases. Those rising to the level of judge are not typically impoverished.
Reform the policy.