Judging Judges

While the editors of the Baltimore Sun have identified a serious problem in “How to judge judges,” 11-21-17, their suggestions for resolution could be simplified.

Finding ethical judges is a big hurdle. Unfortunately, all judges are practicing lawyers before taking a seat on the bench – and that poses a problem. A major motivation for people entering the law profession is the potential to make a lot of money. If this prospect of making money legally is their primary focus, then the concept of practicing “ethics” takes on secondary importance. Again unfortunately, law schools throughout the country including Maryland do not do a good job in teaching their students the magnitude of ethics and, more importantly, putting it into practice.

So the question becomes, how do we obtain good, ethical judges? Based upon research with the Maryland Judiciary Administrative Office of the Courts, my response contains 3 provisions.
First – the salary. There is no need to differentiate salaries among the judges, be they district, circuit, or appellate. After reviewing their current salaries, I would say that an annual salary of $140,000 would be a fair salary for all judges. This should help to ensure that public service is their mission – not making a lot of money.

Second – the term of service. Regardless of the type of judge – district, circuit, or appellate – they should serve one term of 6 years. When that term has been completed, they have fulfilled their public service responsibilities. One term of 6 year service eliminates their need to worry about re-election and taking bribes from lawyers who practice before the judges. When they step down from the court system, they can step in to teaching law, practicing law again, or retirement.

Third – involvement of the Maryland Bar Association. The governor should not appoint judges. Such a measure would remove politics from the selection process. The Maryland Bar Association should assume the responsibility of seeking out those who are qualified to serve on the courts.

These 3 provisions add up to an effective, common sense, easy to understand process for getting better judges. Unfortunately, therefore, my proposals have no chance for implementation.

Ralph Jaffe
Teacher and Democratic candidate for governor in the 2018 primary election
Baltimore

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