A pay hike of $30,000 that could increase the pension of judges is leading many to retire in 2014, opening up spots on the bench for lawyers, according to The Boston Globe. Some 30 judges could retire from their posts this year, which worries many that it could cause an increase of inexperienced judges.
“If there are a lot of appointments made of people with minimal experience, that could very dramatically affect the quality of the administration of justice,” said John Amabile, a Massachusetts criminal law attorney. “There is going to be a big learning curve. Until that person is able to gain the experience, which might take several years, that person is going to be less sure-footed.”
This could also cause issues with decisions being made on restraining orders and setting bail in violent crime cases. These are decisions made confidently by experienced judges.
“It could result in a crush of cases not being heard,” said Martha Grace, retired chief justice of the juvenile court.
Martin W. Healy is the chief legal counsel of the Massachusetts Bar Association. Healy said, “I look at it as an infusion of new blood into a staid justice system. I think it’s a positive change for the whole system.”
Of the 411 judges serving in Massachusetts state courts, 36 of them could retire this year. This is twice the amount of retirements in most years. This year, 17 judges reached or will reach the mandatory retirement age. Healy noted that 19 others have informed their chief justices that they are contemplating early retirement.
The $30,000 pay increase was approved by the state Legislature in 2013 and it takes effect this summer. It increases the salaries of most associate judges to $160,000 from $130,000. The pension is 75 percent of their highest pay and the current system requires a judge to work just one day at the highest earned salary.
The Judicial Nominating Commission has received 514 applications from lawyers who want to become judges, compared with just 175 in 2012.
Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey said that every department has “extensive judicial training for newly appointed judges.”
Carey also said that within the next year a conference will be held to provide new judges with additional training.
“We are confident that the governor will fill vacancies as they arise,” Carey said.
Healy also said, “In many instances, some got appointed to the bench very young and they’ve been on for 30 or 40 years. A lot of them have become stale in terms of their knowledge of the law.”
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