Texas: judicial salary plan calls for 3-part formula; computation includes other states, US Court of Appeals, in-state first year attorneys

A unique plan to change the way Texas sets judicial salaries has been introduced in the House and Senate.

HB 3971 / SB 1938 provide two major changes:

1) Most state judicial salaries would be set as a percentage of the salary of a justice of the Texas Supreme Court (other than chief justice). Presently District Courts receive a salary equal “of at least $125,000” made up of state and county funds. Judges of the Court of Appeals would receive a salary equal to 91% of a Supreme Court justice; they currently make 110% of a District Court justice.

2) The salary of a Texas Supreme Court justice (other than Chief Justice) would be set annually using a three-part formula

1/3 of the average salary of the justices (other than chief justices) of the highest appellate courts of the 9 most populous states

+

1/3 of the salary of a judge of the US Court of Appeals

+

1/3 average starting base salary of first-year associate attorneys employed with the five private law firms with the largest number of attorneys licensed in Texas

Data for these computations would come from the Office of Court Administration and the state bar.

The formula would have a limit, however. Under no circumstances could an adjustment in salary be greater than 4% or the % increase in CPI for the last year.

Kentucky: advisory Judicial Compensation Commission clears House; raises 5% or less “presumptively reasonable”; education-incentive program for court clerks attached

A plan to create a Kentucky Judicial Compensation Commission cleared the House earlier this week. Unlike the 2015 plan (discussed here) this Commission’s recommendation would be advisory only; the 2015 bill had the Commission’s recommended increases go into effect unless overridden by the legislature.

HB 525 as approved by the House has three main areas.

Advisory Judicial Compensation Commission

The bill as amended creates a 9-member judicial compensation commission. Members would include 2 picks each for the Governor, Senate President, House Speaker, and Chief Justice. The 9th member would be picked by the Kentucky Bar President.

The commission, in making its recommendation would look at 9 areas

  1. The overall economic climate in the Commonwealth;
  2. The rate of inflation;
  3. The levels of compensation received by justices and judges of other states and of the federal government;
  4. The Commonwealth’s interest in attracting highly qualified and experienced persons to serve as justices and judges;
  5. The value of comparable service performed in the private sector, including arbitration and mediation;
  6. The compensation of attorneys and other qualified persons in the private sector;
  7. The consumer price index and changes in that index;
  8. The overall compensation currently received by other public officials and employees; and
  9. The time requirements of the office for which the compensation recommendation is made.

5% raises are “presumptively reasonable”

With the above criteria in mind, the commission would meet every 2 years to make recommendations, however the legislature would still be required to approve them.

While the original and committee substitute for HB 525 all make the Commission’s recommendations advisory-only, the committee substitute includes the following language

A recommendation by the Commission for a salary increase for justices and judges that does not exceed one hundred five percent (105%) of the current salary for judicial officers at that level of the Kentucky Court of Justice shall be presumptively reasonable.

Clerks education incentive program

HB 525 as amended in committee adjusts the timing and amounts of salary adjustments for clerks of the Circuit Courts. First, it sets the clerk’s adjustments to the same time/same level as for other county officials, rather than on July 1 of each year.

HB 525 as amended also creates an incentive program for clerks. Those clerks of the Circuit Court who complete at least 40 hours of training per year under a program approved by the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts are to receive the same incentive payments as county officers who participate in a similar program (KRS 64.5275(6)).

HB 525 is now pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Wyoming: state legislature increases court automation fee from $10 to $25

Wyoming’s governor has signed into law HB 192 which raises the state’s court automation fee from $10 to $25. The House version increased the fee from $10 to $20. The Senate version increased the fee from $10 to $25 and exempted state agencies from the fee increase until July 2018.

It was the Senate version that was ultimately enacted.

The fee is added based on various filings (probate, appellate, civil, etc.) as well as on criminal convictions. The fee was created and set at $10 in 2000 with the proceeds going to a judicial systems automation account (W.S. 5–2–120) and is used by the supreme court for the purchase, maintenance and operation of computer hardware and software to enhance the communication, records and management needs of the courts.

The law goes into effect on July 1, 2017.

 

Wisconsin: Governor’s budget ends Judicial Council, moves judicial disciplinary commission $$$ under Supreme Court, changes way judicial salaries handled

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has submitted his proposed budget and the bill includes several big changes to the state’s judiciary. AB 64 of 2017 as filed repeats several items proposed in the governor’s 2015 budget (AB 21 of 2015). Media coverage of the 2017 plan here.  The budget:

  1. Deletes every statutory reference to the Judicial Council and removes all its appropriations.
  2. Moves the appropriations for administering the state’s judicial disciplinary body (Judicial Commission) to the Supreme Court.
  3. Provides the legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations is to review and establish annual salaries for judges and justices under a proposal
    submitted by the director of state courts. Under current law, annual salaries for judges and justices are reviewed and established in the state compensation plan in the same manner as positions in the state classified service. The 2015 budget plan would have had a Judicial Compensation Commission consisting of members appointed by the supreme court to review judicial salaries and submit a written report and make recommendations on the judicial salaries.

Tennessee: bills create Court Fee and Tax Advisory Council, calls for court fees and taxes to go only towards court/court clerk operations

Bills (HB 880 / SB 1084) filed in the Tennessee legislature earlier this month seek to address the issue of court fees and taxes, their amounts, and use.

The bills as introduced begin with explanatory clauses including declaring it “the policy of this state that court fees and taxes shall be imposed only for the expenses related to the operation of the courts and the operations of the court clerks” and expressing concern that court fees and taxes are becoming “a burden.”

If enacted, the bills require the creation of a Court Fee and Tax Advisory Council. The council would be responsible for

  1. annually compiling all the various court taxes and fees and recommending whether to continue them
  2. reviewing pending state legislation to create new court taxes and fees or amend existing ones

The Council would be made up of three groups: judges, lawyers, and clerks.

  • 3 judges, one from each of the state’s general jurisdiction courts (Chancery, Circuit, Criminal), chosen by the Supreme Court
  • 1 General Sessions Court judge, picked by the General Sessions Courts Judges’ Conference
  • 1 Juvenile Court judge, picked by the Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
  • 2 attorneys, one picked by House Speaker and other by Senate Speaker
  • 2 court clerks (1 civil + 1 criminal) picked by the State Court Clerks’ Conference

In addition, the Administrative Director of the Courts would serve ex officio.

The Tennessee council appears similar to the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Judicial Council’s review of new or increased court fees/costs (SB 253 of 2003 now codified as LSA-R.S.62). The Louisiana Judicial Council created a Court Cost/Fee Committee as a result.

Notably that 2003 law required the Louisiana Judicial Council to weigh in on increases or new fees/costs for all trial courts (“district court, family court, juvenile court, city court, parish court, municipal court, mayor’s court, justice of the peace court, and traffic court.”) A 2011 amendment (HB 522) removed the Council’s power to review fee/cost changes in mayor’s and justice of the peace courts. That same 2011 amendment, however, required the council to review and recommend whether the fee or cost was “reasonably related to the operation of the courts or court system.”

Arizona: Statewide Court Security Fund clears Senate 27-2, money would be used to bring all courthouses up to Supreme Court’s minimum standards

The Arizona Senate last week approved SB 1161 to create a Statewide Court Security Fund to be administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Under the bill the money would be dedicated to “assistance, training and grants to courts to meet minimum standards of courthouse security that are adopted by the supreme court.

Funding would come from an apparently 2% increase on all court fees.

SB 116 has been sent to the House but not yet assigned to a committee.

Plans to link executive/legislative salaries to judges rejected in Indiana & Wyoming

Plans to tie the salaries of legislative and executive branch officials to judges have been rejected in both Indiana and Wyoming.

The Indiana plan, discussed here, builds on an existing plan that links the salaries of state legislators to judges. Under SB 60 as introduced, that link would have been extended to include top executive branch officials. The version that came out of committee and was approved by the Senate asks for a study committee to be formed to look at these salaries instead.

The Wyoming plan, HB 175 as discussed here, made linkages between top executive branch officials and judicial salaries. The amended version removed any reference to links and instead put in exact amounts (i.e. Governor = $113,000). Even with the amendment, the plan died in the House Committee of the Whole.