SENIOR JUDGE PROGRAM PROVIDES JUDGES AT 1/10TH THE COST OF PERMANENT JUDGES

The Senior Judges Program currently have 45 judges participating.  If the state were to create 45 new judgeships to replace the Senior Judges who are helping to handle the large caseload in our courts, the cost would be $15,750,000 a year.  ($350,000 x 45 = $15,750,000)

 These 45 judges are working for a retirement benefit enhancement that costs $1.57 million a year.  That means that the state is getting the benefit of the work of 45 Senior Judges for 1/10th the cost of creating new judgeships.
 The Associated Press press reported:
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The cost of a state program that uses retired judges to help with Kentucky’s caseload has ballooned to four times its original size.
State legislators approved the senior judge program seven years ago as a way to clean up case backlogs. The original budget was $420,000 for a pool of about 25 retired judges.
There are now 45 senior judges, and the Judicial Form Retirement System will pay out at least $1.57 million for the program this year, according to an analysis by the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The executive director of the retirement system, Donna Stockton-Early, acknowledged that the program’s annual liabilities to the pension fund far exceed the budgeted amount.
But Early said the senior status program would not jeopardize the state’s judicial retirement fund’s long-term health, because legislators increased the fund’s subsidy by $420,000 in 2000 to cover senior judges.
Overall, taxpayers pay for only 25 percent of the pension fund’s benefits, with investment income (69 percent) and pension contributions from active judges (8 percent) paying for the rest, she said.
But the newspaper found that the senior status program will get more expensive.
The number of eligible judges will reach 53 within two years, including 29 who are currently eligible but still active judges. Senior judges must serve 120 days a year for five years and are assigned to fill vacancies.
Senior judges also receive a boost to the pension payment, which is already generous compared with other states.
The pension boost changes the pension’s multiplier for judicial service from 2.75 percent to 5 percent, and the average enhancement was more than $30,000 — almost as much as Kentucky’s median household income in 2005.
The average senior judge’s pension was at least $88,411.
“That pay is way out of line,” said Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Stengel, who says legislators should rein in the senior judge program’s retirement enhancement.
Supporters of the program say it saves taxpayers money, since the cost of creating a new judgeship runs more than $300,000 the first year.
Ohio pays senior judges the prorated salary of a sitting judge for each day of service, and Tennessee pays half the daily salary of a sitting judge.
Indiana pays $50 to $75 a day, according to information compiled by the National Center for State Courts.
In none of the three states do judges receive a retirement enhancement that stays with them even after they’ve completed their service. But in Kentucky, judges keep the enhancement for life.
Kentucky’s program has been successful at luring well-paid lawyers to run for judgeships, said Rod Messer, president of the Kentucky Circuit Judges Association.
“For the most part, the state and the public are getting the benefit of some more experienced people,” he said.
But Messer acknowledged the program has created an incentive for judges to retire early. Last year, the term of nearly every judgeship in the state expired, and 25 retired to become senior judges.
Jason Nemes, acting director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, said 12 judges will leave the program at the end of the year, bringing the number of participants closer to the original projection.

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