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Judges speak up for pay increase; Advisory board holds hearing.

Byline: Lisa D. Welsh

WORCESTER - Instead of presiding over litigants, the state's trial judges pleaded their own case in the court of public opinion last night.

The Massachusetts Judges Conference, representing 90 percent of the state's judges, have requested a salary for judges of $162,000, effective July 1. Trial judges currently make $129,694.

It was the second and final time the governor's advisory board was to hear testimony from the public. But last night's hearing in a conference room at the University of Massachusetts Medical School was not well-publicized.

Organizers said announcements were sent to Statehouse news bureaus and posted on the state's Web site, however members of the public were not in attendance last night. Comments on the salary hike can be submitted to macompcom@mit.edu.

Several judges and local lawyers spoke in favor of the raise to members of Gov. Deval L. Patrick's advisory board.

The board was created last fall at the same time the Legislature approved, and Mr. Patrick signed into law, controversial legislation that gave the governor and the state's four other constitutional officers automatic biennial pay raises under the same system that automatically increases legislator's pay.

The governor is required to raise the salaries of legislators under the terms of a constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 1998.

The panel is focusing this year on the salaries of judges, constitutional officers, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi. It expects to make its recommendation on the judges' salaries next month.

Several testifying last night said the $160,000 starting salary for rookie lawyers at larger Boston law firms is higher than the highest-paid judge's salary.

Supporters of increases included Edward Ryan, a lawyer from Fitchburg, who has participated in a recruitment process for new judges for the past three years.

"Salary is a major stumbling block," Mr. Ryan said. "I've heard them say `I have two kids in college' and `My wife is no longer working. I can't afford to do that.'"

In a plea to get salary compensation out of the "smoke-filled rooms" of the political process, lawyer Michael P. Angelini, chairman of Bowditch and Dewey, told the board, "It is unfair, the manner in which we pay them. We live in a society that is unfair to a lot of people but it's horrible to disregard the public interest."

"And it's not in the public interest to not have the best and the brightest," he said. "We've been relying on luck but that trend is changing and it is increasingly difficult to attract high-quality people to the bench."

Advisory board members present were Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce; Pamela Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts; Nora Costa, managing director of Salary.com, a company that provides compensation and talent management services, and Thomas Kochan, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

Stephen Crosby, dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies and former state secretary of administration and finance under Govs. Paul Cellucci and Jane M. Swift, did not attend.

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PHOTOG: T&G Staff/STACEY ARSENAULT
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 7, 2008
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