Publication note: my article in latest Judicature on judicial salary commissions

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?

Delaware: citing economic conditions, House unanimously rejects Compensation Commission’s report to increase judicial salaries

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.

Add Wyoming to the list of states trying to tie executive/legislative salaries to judicial salaries; Oklahoma abandoned the practice

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.



Indiana: Plan calls for linking executive branch salaries to judicial salaries; legislative salaries already linked

The practice of linking the salaries of other officials to that of judges has been debated throughout the country. In 2015, it was abandoned in Oklahoma and adopted in Colorado. Indiana may be extending its existing linkage between judicial-and-state-legislative salaries to include executive branch officials as well.

Under SB 60 of 2017 as introduced the link would start in 2021:

  • Governor of Indiana’s salary = 100% of salary paid by the state under IC 33-38-5-6 to a Circuit Court Judge of Marion County.
  • Lt. Gov., Secretary of State, Auditor of State, Treasurer of State, Attorney General, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction = 85% of salary paid by the state to a Circuit Court Judge of Marion County.

The plan is similar to the system in place for state legislators.  A law passed in 2007 (SB 401) makes legislative salaries equal to 18% of a trial judge’s salary under IC 33-38-5-6, as adjusted under IC 33-38-5-8.1.

SB 60 has been filed in the Senate Civil Law Committee.

West Virginia Judicial Compensation Commission approved by House; recommendations no longer guaranteed to be filed in legislature as bill

Earlier today the West Virginia House approved SB 339 which would create a Judicial Compensation Commission. Of note in the process has been diminishing the power of the Commission.

As introduced, the bill as discussed here provided the Commission’s recommendations would go into effect unless the legislature overrode them by a 60% vote.

The salary recommendations made by the commission shall be introduced as a concurrent resolution by the presiding officer in both the Senate and the House of Delegates no later than the twentieth day of the regular legislative session. If the Legislature fails to take action on the concurrent resolution or if the Legislature rejects the passage of the concurrent resolution by less than sixty-percent of those elected in each body, then the recommendations made by the Judicial Compensation Commission will stand…

As approved by the Senate and discussed here the Commission’s recommendation would not be automatically approved subject to override, but would be guaranteed to be turned into a bill for consideration.

a bill adopting the salary recommendations made by the commission shall be introduced by the presiding officer in both the Senate and the House of Delegates no later than the twentieth day of the regular legislative session.

As approved by the House, the Commission’s recommendation is no longer assured to even be submitted as a bill.

a bill adopting the salary recommendations made by the commission may be introduced by the presiding officer in both the Senate and the House of Delegates.

SB 339 now goes back to the Senate to concur with the House amendment.

Iowa: House Appropriations Committee approves plan to let supreme court set all judicial salaries, move and create judgeships; bill described as a “sea change”

The Iowa House Appropriations Committee has approved a plan that would restructure the way the Iowa judiciary operates and functions in what is being called a “sea change“. (h/t to the Iowa State Bar for the pointer)

Key provisions of HF 2409 include:

  1. Judicial salaries would not longer be set by the legislature but the supreme court (for active judges) or the chief justice (for senior judges) and paid from the general operating moneys appropriated to the judicial branch.
  2. If a vacancy occurs in the office of a district judge, district associate judge, associate juvenile judge, or associate probate judge and the chief justice finds disparity in the allocation of such judicial officers, the chief justice may apportion the vacancy if a majority of the supreme court approves the apportionment (currently the state’s judicial council must approve the move).
  3. Currently, the supreme court prescribes a formula to determine the number of district judges who will serve in a district, subject to certain restrictions. The bill eliminates four such restrictions relating to the filling of vacancies including in particular the restriction that the number of district judges shall not exceed 116.
  4. Currently, the number and apportionment of district associate judges is provided based on population. The bill requires the supreme court to prescribe a formula determining the number of district associate judges serving in each judicial election district based on a model that measures and applies an estimated case-related workload formula of judicial officers and that accounts for administrative duties, travel time, and other judicial duties.
  5. Currently, 206 magistrates are required to be apportioned among the counties. The bill eliminates the specific number of magistrates that must be apportioned. 


Kansas: bill would overhaul municipal court operations, decrease local government reliance on fees/fines; shut down of municipal courts possible for noncompliance

A plan similar to one in Missouri that limits how much a local government can rely on court fees/fines is on the agenda in Kansas. SB 403, set for a hearing next week, prohibits municipal governments from receiving more than 10% of their “annual general operating revenue” from municipal court traffic citations. Anything above the 10% budget threshold would have to be sent to the state general revenue fund. Moreover, 70% of all revenue from traffic infractions on a road defined as part of the “national network of highways” would have to go to the state’s highway fund.

In addition, the municipal judge would have to certify annually the courts are meeting 9 minimum standards, including

  1. defendants in custody pursuant to an initial arrest warrant issued by the municipal court are given an opportunity to be heard by the municipal judge in person, by telephone or via video conferencing as soon as practicable, and in no event more than 48 hours after the arrest for traffic infractions, or more than 72 hours after the arrest for any other ordinance violations, and if such defendant is not given that opportunity, then the defendant is released from custody;
  2. defendants in municipal custody are not held more than 24 hours without a warrant for arrest;
  3. no defendant is detained in order to coerce payment of fines and court costs;
  4. the municipal court has established procedures whereby an indigent defendant may present evidence of such defendant’s financial condition, and the municipal court takes such evidence into account in determining fines and court costs, and in establishing payment requirements;
  5. the municipal court only assesses fines and court costs as authorized by law;
  6. no additional complaint is issued for a failure to appear for a traffic violation;
  7. proceedings of the municipal court are conducted in a courtroom that is open to the public and large enough to reasonably accommodate the public, the parties and attorneys;
  8. the municipal court utilizes alternative payment plans and community service alternatives; and
  9. the municipal court has adopted an electronic payment system or a payment-by-mail system for the payment of traffic violations.

If a municipal government failed to provide the above money to the state and/or the municipal court failed to meet the standards, all municipal court functions would be suspended (cases would be shifted to the District Court) and certain state sales tax funds would be withheld.

SB 403 is set for a hearing on March 2 before the Senate Ways & Means Committee.