Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Report: Retired judges earn millions on bench

on October 07, 2013 10:30 AM

HARRISBURG (AP) — Eighty-six retired Pennsylvania judges earned millions of extra dollars combined last year by augmenting their pension checks with part-time work as senior judges, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The “double-dip” arrangement resulted in the judges receiving about $11 million total, including nearly $4 million in per-diems for courtroom work and $7 million in pension payments, The Citizens’ Voice in Wilkes-Barre reported.

They also received comprehensive health care benefits.

The report, based on information the newspaper obtained through Right-to-Know requests to judicial and pension fund officials, showed Senior Judge Ricardo Jackson in Philadelphia received the most compensation — more than $176,000. At the opposite end of the scale was Senior Judge Charles B. Smith in Chester County, who took in about $52,000.

Senior judges try cases and take on other assignments once they have retired as full-time jurists, typically in their home counties or adjoining ones. They help the judiciary process about 3.4 million cases a year despite a mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges and a moratorium on filling midterm vacancies on the county bench.

Senior judges can be paid as much as the difference between their annual pension and the comparable judicial salary for their work. Both judicial salaries and daily compensation for senior judges carry automatic cost-of-living adjustments under a 1995 state law.

Current salaries for county judges are $173,271, and president judges receive more. The daily compensation for senior judges is $534 this year plus reimbursement for travel, food and lodging.

Judicial officials say the use of senior judges ultimately saves taxpayers money.

It is “far less expensive paying the per-diem for the senior judge than to pay salary and benefits for a commissioned judge because the senior judges are already receiving their benefits,” Joseph Mittleman of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts testified at a recent legislative hearing.

Citizen activist Eric Epstein said cost effectiveness is not the issue.

“We ought to be asking the best way to make sure all citizens have access to a fair and impartial judicial system,” Epstein said.

“The real problem is that over 20 percent of the judiciary are arbitrarily appointed and not accountable.”

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