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Delaware judges are in line for the heftiest salary increases of all the state’s officials, based on the recommendations of the 2001 Delaware Compensation Commission. Even so, the 7 percent hike they are slated for is half of what the judiciary and Delaware State Bar Association argued they deserve. The commission, however, did agree to recommend another priority for the bench and bar — leveling up the Family Court judicial pay to equal the Superior Court. Under the recommendations, Delaware Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey would be the highest paid state official at $146,600 a year — topping the annual salary of Gov. Ruth Ann Minner at $114,000. The other four Supreme Court justices would receive $141,300 a year. Annual pay on the Court of Chancery would be $139,600 for Chancellor William B. Chandler III and $134,700 for the four vice chancellors. While those salaries might appear stratospheric to average Delawareans, whose median family income in 2001 is $65,157, there are also other ways of looking at it. The improved compensation would lift the Supreme Court only modestly above the 2000 annual starting salary of $140,000 for a first-year associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the highest in Wilmington. Chancery would continue to lag behind. Still, there are other intangibles for judges. “They call you ‘Your Honor,’ ” quipped Joshua W. Martin III, president and chief executive officer of Verizon-Delaware and a former Superior Court judge himself. Martin co-chaired a bar association committee that worked on recommendations for judicial salaries. Under state law, the raises are scheduled to take effect Feb. 1 unless the General Assembly votes to reject the recommendations from the compensation commission. This salary drive for top officials in the legislative, executive and judicial branches is a quadrennial exercise, coinciding with a new gubernatorial term. Beginning in 1985, a compensation commission of six members, drawn from business, academia and government, has issued a report aimed at tweaking pay to keep Delaware competitive with certain states and as much as possible with the marketplace. MORGAN CHAIRS PANEL The 2001 commission, chaired by Calvert A. Morgan Jr. of PNC Bank, was most generous with the judiciary. While legislators and most elected officials would receive 3.5 percent raises, the judges were recommended to get twice that. All hikes would come on top of increases that took effect July 1 with the new budget year. The bench and the bar had asked for more, however. They wanted the judges to get 14 percent. As is customary, the state bar association assembled a committee to make the case for judicial compensation sufficient to attract the legal talent needed to preserve Delaware’s franchise in corporation law, based in Chancery and backed up by the Supreme Court. The eight-member Committee on Judicial Compensation was co-chaired by two former bar association presidents in Joshua Martin and F. Michael Parkowski of Parkowski & Guerke in Dover. It produced a 25-page report, additionally supported by Exhibits A through K. In addition, members of the judiciary attended a meeting of the compensation commission in December to argue on their own behalf. “The standing of the Delaware courts in the legal community, the percentage of revenues generated based on the judiciary’s stability, the staggering increases in private-sector salaries and the significance of the courts to the citizens of Delaware argue strongly for significant increases in the compensation levels for all of the courts,” the bar association committee wrote in a report to the compensation commission. “The Delaware State Bar Association Committee on Judicial Compensation recommends that the compensation commission restore the Delaware courts to their proper rankings and proposes salary levels commensurate with the national and international status of the courts that ensure the personal, corporate and financial health of Delaware will be maintained.” The committee noted the state brought in $472 million in the last fiscal year in franchise taxes from 317,000 corporations, accounting for more than 20 percent of the state operating budget, as a result of Delaware’s role in corporate law. In addition, the judiciary argued it is unique in state officialdom. While legislators often have other jobs and while Cabinet secretaries have a limited tenure that can lead afterwards to lucrative private-sector positions, judges generally make a career commitment when they go on the bench. The bar association committee also suggested the Delaware judicial salaries should be compared to those of other major commercial jurisdictions, such as New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California, instead of those of surrounding states that include Pennsylvania and Maryland, along with New York and New Jersey. PRIVATE PAY SURGES It further noted the surging salaries of lawyers at private firms, where partners routinely receive annual bonuses from $300,000 to $1 million and even associates do well. “First-year associates at major firms nationally average $120,000. Four years ago when the commission last considered judicial compensation, the same starting position paid $65,000 — a 54 percent increase,” the report said. While the bar association committee called for a 14 percent pay hike, it suggested 7 percent at a minimum to keep pace with what other states across the country have done. The compensation commission accepted the recommendation of a 7 percent raise. “The commission recognizes that Delaware has gained a national and increasingly international reputation for its outstanding courts and highly qualified judiciary. The Delaware judiciary adjudicates the sensitive issues faced by Delaware citizens in their daily lives and renders decisions of major importance that affect the corporate governance, stockholders’ rights and the business marketplace in the U.S. and the world,” the commission said in an executive summary of its report. “The commission recognizes it is not feasible to compensate Delaware’s public servants at levels commensurate with those paid individuals of similar competence and ability in the private sector. However, the commission believes it is important that compensation be provided to avoid unreasonable sacrifice.” The commission also accepted the arguments by the bench and bar that Family Court judges be paid the same as the Superior Court, although it stopped short of agreeing to parity for the Court of Common Pleas, as well. Currently the Family Court and Common Pleas are paid less than Superior Court. The commission recommended annual salaries of $139,600 for Superior Court President Judge Henry duPont Ridgely and Family Court Chief Judge Vincent J. Poppiti, as well as pay of $134,700 a year for the remaining 18 Superior Court and 14 Family Court judges. Because of the leveling up, Family Court judges would receive a pay hike of almost 10 percent. The new annual salaries for the Common Pleas Court would be $138,200 for Chief Judge Alex J. Smalls and $131,200 for the other eight judges. Like most of the judiciary, Chief Magistrate Patricia W. Griffin would receive a 7 percent raise to $96,600 a year. Although the judges didn’t get all that they wanted, the bench and the bar have no complaints — or if they do, they’re keeping them to themselves. “The bar association did a superb job, and the judiciary uniformly backed their analysis. We believe what the commission did was fair to the judiciary,” Veasey said. Martin agreed. “We are satisfied that even though the commission didn’t buy the concept that raises should go up to 14 percent, it bought our fallback position,” he said. “Overall, Mike Parkowski and I were pleased.”

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