Who Needs A Raise? Judges or Teachers?

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Claudia Barber, Candidate for Circuit Court Judge in Anne Arundel County, at a teacher's march in Annapolis in 2018. Photo: Yasemin Jamison

Monday, I had the pleasure of marching in Annapolis with Maryland’s teachers who are fighting to get our Maryland government to fully fund our schools. There should not be any more mystery about how casino monies are spent when it comes to funding education. Maryland legislators must be held accountable for making sure monies are spent for their intended purpose. Voters should not be told the casino money went elsewhere, and not to education.

Teachers’ salaries are important in Anne Arundel County public schools. The thought of taking away the cost of living increases or step increases should not be an issue for these dedicated teachers.  It would never happen in the judiciary. When the loss of cost of living increases became an issue for federal judges, they sued and got their increases restored.

Judicial salaries in the state of Maryland are equally given attention by the state legislature. According to Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, Maryland judges’ salaries have not kept up with inflation. So, in February 2018, she urged Maryland lawmakers to raise judicial salaries for the first time in three years. She contends that “continued wage stagnation will discourage the best-qualified attorneys from applying for the bench.”

But what about teachers?

Are we doing our best to attract the best-qualified teachers in our counties? How are judges’ salaries more important than teachers’ salaries? Shouldn’t they be equally important?

After all, teachers take on an amazing task of educating our future population. They are tasked far greater when some school systems base their salary increases on students’ performance. Judges in Maryland state courts do not necessarily face formal performance evaluations from the public to keep their 15-year terms. In other jurisdictions, such as the District of Columbia, they do.

Public notices are sent inviting public comment from those who appeared before them and from the public in general. This is one opportunity lawyers and the public can share their comments or concerns about what it is like to appear before certain judges who abuse their authority and power. The Commission on Judicial Disabilities then takes this information into account when deciding to reappoint judges. It’s sort of a report card, if you will.

Federal trial judges should receive the same scrutiny. The trial judges, in particular, should not have lifetime appointments with the unfettered opportunity to have litigants and those who appear before them not weigh in on their performance as adjudicators.

We need good jurists. But we also need good teachers because both of these professionals play equally important roles in our society. Accordingly, the salary disparities should be weighed in both professions with equal importance and attention. 

Claudia Barber is a former administrative law judge, and currently an attorney and candidate for Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge. The primary election is June 26.

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