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:
- Deletes every statutory reference to the Judicial Council and removes all its appropriations.
- Moves the appropriations for administering the state’s judicial disciplinary body (Judicial Commission) to the Supreme Court.
- 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.
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
- annually compiling all the various court taxes and fees and recommending whether to continue them
- 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.”
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 1161 has been sent to the House but not yet assigned to a committee.
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.
I have this in the latest edition of Judicature.
The article asks (and answers) several questions about these commissions:
- Ad hoc or permanent?
- Does the commission examine judiciary compensation only or that of other branches as well?
- Is the compensation change for the judiciary only or for other branches as well?
- Is the commission’s recommendation binding?
- Could the commission recommend a diminishment?
- What should or must the commission look at?
The Delaware House has unanimously rejected a recommended salary increase for judges in the state. Delaware is one of 8 states that have a compensation commission whose recommendations for judicial salaries are binding unless specifically overridden by the legislature, something that occurred in 1993 and 2013.
The 2017 Compensation Commission report had recommended phasing in salary increases over the next several fiscal years for judges. Under state law the legislature has 30 days from the start of its session to reject the report otherwise the increases would “take effect and have the force and effect of law as of July 1 following submission.”
SJR 2, which rejects the report, expressed support for the “the national and international reputation for excellence that our judiciary has earned” but noted the legislature “must also recognize the current state and national economic conditions” in rejecting the increases.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
First it was Colorado. Then Indiana. Now Wyoming joins a growing number of states attempting to statutorily tie executive and/or legislative salaries to those of the judiciary.
HB 175 as filed makes two linkages
- Governor = Supreme Court Justice
- Secretary of State, State Auditor, State Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction = Circuit Court judge (note: in Wyoming the Circuit Court is a limited jurisdiction court)
It should be noted that Oklahoma had a similar linkage system it abandoned in the same year (and effectively the same week) Colorado adopted its version.
HB 175 was filed in the House but not yet assigned to a committee.