Massachusetts Appeals Court
Associate Justice Peter W. Agnes Jr. spoke at the Massachusetts Bar
Association Presidents' Dinner on Nov. 17 at the University of
Massachusetts Club in Boston.
Included here are his comments regarding court financing and
judicial salaries. To read Agnes' entire speech, including his
experiences with the MBA as a lawyer, and the need to dramatically
change the way in which Massachusetts courts serve people, visit www.massbar.org/agnes.
I didn't accept [MBA] President [Richard P.] Campbell's special
invitation to appear here tonight simply to say thank you. So give
me just a few moments to address another topic -- the future of the
judicial department. And, here I must emphasize that the
observations I make are my own.
We face challenges that we have not faced before.
… We must confront the new reality of how the Judicial Department
will fulfill its mission to provide the citizens of the
commonwealth with access to justice in an era of diminishing
resources. Today I read that the governor and Secretary of A&F
Gonzalez predict that 40 percent of the FY2013 budget will be
consumed by the cost of health care.
Despite prudent fiscal management by our governor and Legislature,
a "rainy day" fund that has been brought back to a $1.3 billion
level and continues to be replenished, and the expectation that
revenues will grow, due in part to modest job growth and one-time
revenues from casino gambling, yesterday the executive branch
informed municipal leaders that there is a "budget gap" for FY2013,
which begins July 1, 2012.
In other words, today the prediction is that in the next fiscal
year, projected revenues will not be sufficient to offset projected
costs given our current level of spending. We do not yet have an
estimate of what the gap means in dollars.
However, in view of the fact that spending on the courts has
declined significantly over the past four years - $605 million down
to about $540 million -- that we have not hired anyone for four
years, and that there is no expectation of an increase in federal
aid to the states, there is reason to be concerned about how much
revenue will be made available in FY2012 and beyond to fund the
There are forces affecting future budgets for the Judicial
Department that are very difficult to control, and some are simply
beyond our control. In my view, at a minimum, we need a
comprehensive planning process, with participation from
organizations like the MBA and experts outside the Judicial
Department, to design models for how to operate a system of justice
with even less revenue that what is available to us this
Yet, as difficult as it may be to secure adequate funds for the
courts, I wish to bring my remarks tonight to a close by urging you
to support the proposition that funding for the courts in FY2013
must include funds for an increase in judicial compensation. In the
tradition of Jack Webb's "Joe Friday," here are the facts and just
- A Massachusetts trial judge earns $129,500 per year;
Massachusetts judges and clerks have had one pay raise in the past
13 years (2006) and receive no cost of living allowance.
- Massachusetts now ranks 47th out of 50 in terms of judicial
salaries in the nation, adjusted for inflation, according to the
January 2011 ranking by the National Center for State Courts. Among
the states. In real dollars, some comparisons include California at
$179,000, Pennsylvania at $164,000, New Jersey at $165,000, Rhode
Island at $145,000, Virginia at $158,000 and Illinois at
- In Massachusetts, the legislatively created Compensation
Commission (known as the Guzzi Commission), comprised of persons
outside of government, conducted a thorough study of public sector
salaries and the salaries of judges around the nation and submitted
its report on June 20, 2008, in which it concluded that "[t]he
evidence presented to and gathered by the Board makes a compelling
case for increasing the salaries of Massachusetts judges" and
recommended trial judges salaries be increased to $160,000.
- Among Massachusetts public employees, there are thousands of
people who earn more in annual compensation that the chief justice
of the Supreme Judicial Court, and their titles include sergeant,
lieutenant, captain, major, chief, program coordinator, nurse,
lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, professor,
director and district attorney, to name only a few. Incidentally, I
applaud the decision by public employers to pay these folks an
honorable salary. But it is more than a bit ironic that the only
group of public employees who are guaranteed an "honorable salary"
in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 are the judges.
- Finally, the annualized cost of the Guzzi
Commission-recommended salary adjustments is $26 million, which
includes all judges, clerks and registers and their assistants. And
our view, by the way, is that the salaries of judges, clerks and
registers and their assistants should remain linked together.
Phasing it in over two years would thus cost about $12 million per
So how do we get there from here?
Here, I will speak for the Massachusetts Judges Conference,
which represents about 85 percent of the state's judges.
First, the MJC asks you to take a stand and say that honorable
salaries for judges, at the level recommended by the Guzzi
Commission ($160,000 per year), should be treated as a core element
of court funding for FY2013;
Second, the MJC asks you to take a stand and say that honorable
salaries for judges, at the level recommended by the Guzzi
Commission ($160,000 per year), should not be bargained away, under
any circumstances, for any other element of court funding;
Third, the MJC asks you and the MBA to work with us in developing
a strategy to take this issue to a broader audience of government
leaders, leaders of the business community, the media and others to
establish an effective coalition in support of a compensation
increase for judges, clerks and registers in the upcoming fiscal
On behalf of my president, Judge James Collins, who served with
distinction in the Massachusetts House for 14 years before assuming
the duties of a Juvenile Court justice, and who could not be here
tonight because he is chairing the MJC's annual business meeting, I
salute each and every one of you for your extraordinary service to
the legal profession and thank you and the MBA for your commitment
to the public interest and your unfailing support for the