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Massachusetts Judges Get a Pay Bump: Early Retirement to Follow?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on December 05, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With Massachusetts judges receiving a $30,000 a year salary increase slated to take effect in July 2014 -- a move that will hike pensions -- a number of judges may retire early.

The salary increase may prompt many judges to step down with higher pensions, leaving Governor Deval Patrick a slew of open spots on the bench to fill near the end of his term.

New Pay Grade

State judges, clerk-magistrates and assistant clerk-magistrates are set to receive their first pay raise since 2006. The provisions for the pay bump were neatly tucked away in the new $34 billion state budget, reports The Republican.

Under the salary increase, a regular associate judge's salary would be increased by 23 percent from $129,694 to $159,694. Judges on the state Appeals Court and the state Supreme Judicial Court, who receive higher pay, will get the same $30,000 increase in salary. For example, Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court would see a raise from $151,239 to $181,239. If only other states' judges could be so lucky.

The judicial raises will take effect in two steps, with the first step on Jan. 1 and the final step on July 1.

Potential for Early Retirement

Under the Massachusetts Constitution, judges are required to retire when they turn 70. In total, 17 judges face mandatory retirement next year. That includes Chief Justice Ireland.

But a number of other judges -- those who are 65 or older -- may jump ship and retire early to take advantage of bidding adieu under the new statutory pay raise because of the pension hike that comes with the raise.

This is because under the pension system for judges, the maximum judicial pension is 75 percent of the highest day of pay.

As a result, Martin Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, surmised to The Republican that as many as "45 to 70 judges could retire next year including the 17 who face mandatory retirement."

Fresh Seat-Fillers

With his final term concluding at the end of 2014, Patrick, a Democrat, has already nominated 176 judges, reports The Republican. He may have the opportunity to appoint more than half the estimated 410 sitting judges in the state before leaving office. And he didn't even have to do away with a filibuster. (Judicial appointment joke!)

Jokes aside, a sudden glut of fresh blood on the bench would certainly make for an interesting -- and much needed -- diversity shakeup.

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