Many Retired Judges Returning to Bench

By Wagner, Arlo | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 27, 2000 | Go to article overview

Many Retired Judges Returning to Bench


Wagner, Arlo, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Judge Rosalyn Black Bell retired seven years ago - but in title only. The jurist, who turns 77 next month, continues to work, although for only one-third of her last full-time court salary as a judge on Maryland's Court of Special Appeals.

Thomas Rymer, now 75, also was required by law to retire at age 70. He liked his job so much that he often works for free in Maryland's 7th District Circuit Courts, usually in Upper Marlboro.

They are two examples of more than two dozen judges who have retired but choose to continue working part time in Washington-area courts.

As in Maryland, judges in the District and Virginia are required to retire at age 70, although they can retire sooner if they have presided for an allotted number of years. Each jurisdiction has slightly different rules that preclude some retired judges from working in courts part time.

In Virginia, only serious illness enforced real retirement recently on William Murphy, whose efficiency and no-nonsense rulings impressed lawmen and lawbreakers alike in Prince William General District Court.

In the District, 17 so-called "sitting senior judges" return sporadically to relieve and work among the 60 full-time judges. But they can be paid only the difference between their annuities and the annual full-time salary of $141,300.

That's generally the way the pay scales are set in Maryland and Virginia, although they are calculated somewhat differently.

Court officials and lawyers say the retired judges are well worth the extra cost. They can fill in when an active judge is sick, on vacation or otherwise unavailable.

They help reduce backlogs of untried cases. Their experience often means quicker rulings and trials. Many are assigned to civil cases that often involve intricate law analysis more boring and tedious than criminal cases.

"We have no backlog," said Paul H. Weinstein, administrative judge for the Circuit Court in Montgomery and Frederick counties. "It's really been good. I do use retired judges regularly. It's cost effective."

"The really good thing about it is that it is considerably less expensive than getting new judges," said George B. Riggins Jr., coordinator for Maryland's Administrative Office of Courts.

Costs are reduced because retired judges do not have offices, equipment or staff. They typically work from chambers next to courtrooms, in temporary offices and conference rooms.

"We used them quite extensively," said Fred Hodnett, assistant executive secretary for Virginia's Supreme Court, where the chief justice decides which retired judges will be assigned.

Retired Virginia judges are often assigned to "one-day special cases," such as disbarments and civil cases, although they prefer criminal cases. They are paid expenses and $150 per day. "We've got a few who donate their time," Mr. Hodnett said.

The pay is a nice complement to Virginia judicial-retirement pensions, based on working salaries that ranged from $98,000 through $115,000.

In Maryland, retired judges get pensions equal to two-thirds of judicial salaries, ranging from $100,475 in District Court to $135,775 in Maryland's highest Court of Appeals. …

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