Panel expected to recommend pay increases for state judges

A study panel is expected to consider a final report next Tuesday that would recommend  state judges receive their first raise in six years in 2013.

But according to sources, the recommended hike is expected to be less than the 11 percent wage adjustment the Judicial Branch proposed for the coming fiscal year.  The group also is expected to recommend raises in each of the next fiscal years, though it was unclear at what level.

The Commission on Judicial Compensation has been contrasting judges' pay with that of officials in the legislative and executive branches, top lawyers in the private sector, as well as with that of jurists in other states. The 12-member panel also has researched the state's fiscal and economic climate and the changing role of Connecticut's judges.

"Our report will be an example on how you can look to those kinds of indicators as a standard for what is reasonable" compensation, Hartford attorney Timothy Fisher, who chairs the study panel, said Thursday.

Superior Court judges here earn $146,780 per year. According to an analysis prepared by the National Center for State Courts, that ranks 45th among all states once adjusted for inflation.

Connecticut's Appellate Court judges earn $152,637, while Supreme Court justices earn $162,520. Rankings adjusted for regional cost-of-living factors were not available for those higher-level courts.

Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers proposed in October boosting Superior Court judges' pay next fiscal year by 11.3 percent, up to $163,416 in the 2013-14 fiscal years. Rogers also proposed boosting pay for all judges by 5.5 percent in each of the next three fiscal years.

The last pay increases for judges were approved in 2004. That measure ordered annual increases of 5.5 percent effective Jan. 1 of 2005, 2006 and 2007. Legislative pay last increased in 2001.

The Connecticut Judges Association's president, Judge Richard Arnold, has noted that salaries for managers and other executives, both in the Legislative and Executive Branches, rose steadily most years over the past decade.

And unionized state employees, who are in the second year of a two-year wage freeze, are guaranteed 3 percent cost-of-living increases in each of the next two fiscal years. Most of those state employees who also receive a step increase will see their overall pay grow by at least 5 percent.

But with the current state budget facing a $415 million deficit forecast, and as much as $1.2 billion in red ink projected for the next fiscal year, talk of any raise for judges has drawn criticism from some legislators.

"I have nothing against our judges, but this is not the time to be raising anyone's salaries in state employment," Rep. Christopher Wright, D-Bristol, said shortly after Rogers' proposal was released. "There are thousands of state employees who are now in the second year of a salary freeze and raising the pay of judges who are already earning high salaries makes no sense."

In past years the Judicial Branch has recommended that judges' salaries be removed from the legislative approval process and that judges be awarded the same raises granted in any given year to executive branch managers.

Rogers did not include that concept in her proposal this year, and sources said the panel will not recommend that in its final report.

The panel includes former state legislators, a retired probate judge, human resources executives for two major companies, and former Supreme Court Justice and now Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz.

The panel's diverse background "enabled us to give the legislature a very thorough and, we think, a very balanced inquiry into the issue," Fisher added.

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