Déjà vu again

Issue March 2008

For our judiciary, some things never seem to change. Each year, our judges are forced to head to the Hill, hats in hand, looking for reasonable raises in their salary. And each month, it seems, there is a new round of attacks in the press for decisions made in accordance with the law and best judgment.

Massachusetts needs to continue to attract and retain excellent judges. Low judicial salaries make the job less attractive financially and harder for judges to afford to keep.

The average salary for a judge today is $129,694, far less than the salary of a senior associate in a large Boston firm, which averages $160,000. The salary is also less than the average in other states around the country. Since 1989, judges’ salaries have increased an average of only 2.5 percent each year, compared to other state employees who have received an average of 3 percent annually. The salaries have also been adjusted only sporadically, and judges are forced to go several years at a time with no increase in salary at all.

Two things need to happen. First, judges need to receive significant salary adjust-ments to bring them in line with other states and the federal judiciary. Second, salary adjustments need to be removed from the political arena and tied to a reasonable index so pay adjustments are automatic and annual.

In February, the voluntary Advisory Board on Compensation of Officials heard testimony from the bench and bar in support of the increases in judicial salaries. We hope this board will promptly recommend to the Legislature a significant increase in pay for our judges along with an appropriate method for indexing salary increases.

And as if the pay is the only issue facing our judges, there has been another round of attacks in the media on another Superior Court judge. This judge, who made difficult decisions in two sexually dangerous persons cases, followed the law and carefully considered the evidence, as reflected in his written opinions, but just the same, has been pilloried for his decisions after the persons re-offended years later.

Predicting dangerousness is, by all accounts, neither an art nor a science. It is educated guesswork, at best. Though the SDP cases are civil, the law requires that a finding of dangerousness be made beyond a reasonable doubt. Because of that high standard, whether it is a judge or a jury, most SDP cases end in favor of the accused offender.

The MBA has, once again, stood up for our fair and impartial judiciary, and has been ready to respond to media inquiries and media attacks immediately. I hope you have had a chance to see and hear the work of our Task Force for a Fair and Impartial Judiciary. A special thanks goes out to this group, led by chair Edward P. Ryan Jr., for its tireless commitment on behalf of our judges.

A special thanks also goes out to the lawyers and law firms whom we will be honoring at our annual Access to Justice Awards Luncheon on March 6. Each of these recipients advances not just the rights of their clients, but also the image of lawyers and the role of law in our society. Their work is a great help to many clients, as well as a great inspiration to the entire Massachusetts legal community.