State Courts Concerned about Losing Judges After No Salary Growth

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Written By admin at Tuesday, July 24th, 2012


State judicial salaries have flatlined over the past two years, and state courts are worried about experienced judges leaving, leading to slower handling of cases and more case overturns.

Nationwide, judicial salaries are increasing at a yearly rate of less than 1%, according to the National Center for State Court’s Survey of Judicial Salaries.

The report looked at salary data between 2007 and January 1, 2012 for judges in all 50 states. It found that these judicial salary increases essentially flatlined, increasing less than 1% nationwide compared with pre-recession pay rates between 2003 and 2007, which rose on average around 3.24% per year.

“Judges are like anybody, they want to know they’re advancing in life,” said Greg Hurley, an analyst for NCSC that worked on the report. “An experienced mechanic would be able to fix your car faster and do a better job, and it’s the same with judges.”

Judiciaries have been losing judges to higher-paying jobs for years now, usually at private law firms which can pay well over $ 1 million year, Law Blog reports here. Mr. Hurley says that if the judicial salaries aren’t competitive, talented and diverse types of legal practitioners will turn to private practice over the bench.

Judges make anywhere from $ 115,000 to $ 229,000, and while that salary range is no small potatoes, the temptation of the pay raise at a large private law firm has clearly been a temptation many judges couldn’t resist.

The stagnant judicial salaries are symptoms of a wider nationwide state court budget crisis.

“The economy’s getting better but the state governments are still really struggling. There’s really no end to this in sight,” Mr. Hurley said.

States courts have been forced to cut costs in response to tightening government budgets during the fiscal crisis. They have delayed filling vacancies, increased fees and fines, reduced hours of operation and increased backlog where cases sit pending for much longer than they should be.

Nearly all states, 42 in all, have resorted to some form of salary freeze. And 13 states have even reduced salaries to cut costs.

The state with the highest judicial salaries is California, a state wracked with debt and with courts suffering from budget cuts and staff layoffs. The average judicial salary in the highest court in California is just over $ 218,000 and in the intermediate appellate courts an average salary of $ 204,600. California’s court system lost $ 300 million in state appropriations for the 2012 fiscal year, going from $ 3.9 billion to $ 3.6 billion.

South Dakota has the lowest judicial salary in the country with an average salary of around $ 118,000.

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