Judicial Compensation Commission

Summary of Meeting of December 20, 2005

Room 334, State House


Convened:  11:00 a.m.


Members Present:

            Edwin N. Clift

            Sandra Featherman

            Horace A. Hildreth, Jr.



            Lock Kiermaier, Legislative Analyst, Office of Fiscal & Program Review


Others Present:

            Edward Kelleher, Public Information Officer, Judicial Department; Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Clifford; Ted Glessner, State Court Administrator, Gail Drake Wright, Executive Director, Maine State Retirement System; and Kathy Morin, Manager, Actuarial and Legislative Affairs, Maine State Retirement System.


            Chair Featherman convened the meeting by asking commission staff, Mr. Kiermaier, to briefly review, for the commission’s benefit, the draft minutes of the commission’s November 21, 2005 meeting.


Chair Featherman than welcomed new commission member Horace A. Hildreth, Jr.. Mr. Hildreth was appointed by the Speaker of the House to replace David Flanagan who was no longer able to serve on the commission and had resigned. 


            Following the order of the proposed agenda at Chair Featherman’s request, Commission staff person Lock Kiermaier then drew the commission’s attention to a corrected table that he had previously presented to the Commission during the November 21st meeting.  During that meeting, Chair Featherman had pointed out an error in the calculations of the table which was titled, “Judicial Salary Comparisons: “Current Salaries Vs. COLA Scenarios”.  The corrected table is dated 12/6/05 and is sub-titled as the “Corrected Version; 12/6/05”.


            Mr. Kiermaier then presented the October 2004 “Survey of Judicial Salaries” as published by the National Center for State Courts in April of 2005.  Mr. Kiermaier summarized the report in the following manner:


·        From 1992 thru 2004, the mean salary for state trial court judges nationwide increased by 3.1%; this compares to a 3.4% increase during that same time period for salaries paid to state court administrators;

·        From October 1, 2003 to October 1, 2004, the median salary for state trial court judges was less than the median salary paid during that same time period to state court administrators;

·        A study conducted by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the nationwide mean salary paid to state general jurisdiction judges places judges slightly above the middle when compared to the salaries paid to 30 other similar white-collar occupations;

·        As of October 1, 2004, judicial salaries in Maine continue to compare poorly with those paid in other New England states and with those paid in all states;

·        A study conducted by the National Center for State Courts regarding Judicial Compensation Commissions that have been authorized by particular states shows that a total of 20 states have some form of Judicial Compensation Commissions.  The power and authority granted to these commissions ranges from commissions that are purely advisory to commissions with the authority to establish judicial salaries.  Maine’s Judicial Compensation Commission can be fairly described as advisory and therefore is fairly typical when compared to the level of authority granted to most other Judicial Compensation Commissions.


Next, Chair Featherman invited Ms. Gail Drake Wright, Executive Director of the Maine State Retirement System, to speak as a follow-up to judicial retirement issues that were discussed at the commission’s previous meeting on November 21st.  Ms. Wright’s comments included the following points:


·        In response to the commission’s previous request for more information on the costs of increasing the portability of different state retirement plans, Ms. Wright emphasized that there is a high degree of variability in the several instances in which judges would like to import previous retirement benefits earned during their previous service in the Legislature.  The retroactive costs of allowing previous service to be imported ranges from $24,000 for one individual , $115,000 for another and $125,000 for the other affected judge. The variability in these costs is tied to different ages and length of service for the three affected judges.  These one-time retroactive costs are in addition to on-going costs of $11,500 for an estimated total first year cost of $275,500.  Ms. Wright suggested that the commission had several possible options: first, to take no action; second, making a recommendation to allow individuals the option of paying the retroactive costs; and, third, making a recommendation that the State bear both the retroactive and on-going costs;

·        In responding to a question from the commission, Ms. Wright stated that judges are not currently allowed to import any military retirement benefits into the Judicial Retirement System;

·        In response to a previous request from the commission, Ms. Wright stated that the requirement that the Judicial Retirement System must be operated on an actuarially sound basis is established in 4 MRSA § 1255; and

·        In response to an additional request previously made by the commission, Ms. Wright stated that there are 7 actuarial assumptions used in determining the costs of judicial retirement:


1. The annual rate of investment returns which is currently assumed to be 8%;


2. The annual rate of salary increase which is currently assumed to be 4%;


3. The annual cost-of-living increase which is currently assumed to be 4%;


4. Normal Retirement age which is 60 for those members with 10 years of creditable service as of July 1, 1993 and 62 for those members with less than 10 years of creditable service as of July 1, 1993;


5. Probabilities of employment termination at selected ages specified in a table format;


6. Rates of healthy life mortality at selected ages specified in a table format; and


7. Rates of disabled life mortality at selected ages specified in a table format.


            Chair Featherman then suggested that the commission may be at a point to begin formulating recommendations for its report to the Legislature; other commission members agreed. After considerable discussion, the commission members voted to make a recommendation to increase judicial salaries to the levels that would have existed had the commission’s original base salary recommendation been accepted in 1998 and if all scheduled cost-of-living increases had been granted; these base salary figures are calculated in the aforementioned table entitled, “Judicial Salary Comparisons: “Current Salaries Vs. COLA Scenarios”.  The commission members also asked commission staff to prepare a preliminary draft of the report which would speak to this salary recommendation.


            The commission members then discussed what action(s) they might consider regarding any possible changes to the Judicial Retirement System.   It was agreed that this issue needed more deliberation by commission members and that it would be further discussed at the next scheduled meeting of the commission.  Chair Featherman asked that minutes of previous commission meetings which included the statements made to commission members by several different judges regarding retirement issues be sent to commission members.


            Finally, commission staff person Lock Kiermaier discussed the need for the commission to consider scheduling a public hearing to gather comments on any draft report that the commission may issue.  Commission members agreed on a tentative date  of January 31, 2006 from 12 noon to 2 PM.


            Chair Featherman then adjourned the meeting.