A more apt headline on the recent Associated Press article regarding Pennsylvania’s senior judges would be: “Senior judges save taxpayers millions” (“Retired Pa. judges earn millions on bench,” CDT, Monday).
Senior judges are paid a per-day rate for hearing legal matters. But seniors are not allowed to earn more than the current salary of the office from which they retired, less each judge’s pension payment.
In fiscal year 2011-12, the work of senior judges was equivalent in time to that of 35 full-time trial judges, equating to taxpayer savings of about $3.5 million. Some seniors even sat on cases beyond their allowable paid service without compensation, and that accounts for taxpayer savings of $533,000.
Senior judges are not “double dipping.” Double dipping suggests drawing a pension from one government entity while working for another.
Senior judges are those who have retired after having been elected and, in the majority of instances, served at least 10 years. Most senior judges have served far longer than that minimum. Rather than creating additional full-time, full-cost judgeships, seniors fill a gap when there are insufficient commissioned judges to meet caseload demands or when a judge is needed because of conflicts.
Pennsylvanians want practical, timely and cost-effective solutions in providing government services. It is because of them, in significant part, that we haven’t had to close one courtroom for even one day or postpone entire classes of cases for extended periods as other states have had to do.
Senior judges ensure that Pennsylvanians have access to timely and effective justice.
Ronald D. Castille
The writer is chief justice of Pennsylvania.