Texas: House committee approves 3-part formula to set judicial salaries; 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 approved by a House committee.

HB 3971 as amended and approved by the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee provides 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 justice of the Supreme Court 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 in Texas 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.

 

Nevada: Constitutional amendment to create judicial compensation commission appears dead; plan to repeal defunct advisory statutory commission advances in Assembly

A constitutional amendment which would have created a new binding compensation commission to set salaries for judges and other elected officials in Nevada appears dead while plans to repeal a defunct statutory body have cleared the Assembly.

AJR 10, which had been approved by the 2015/2016 Nevada legislature, would have created a Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Certain Elected Officers to set salaries for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Courts, and other state and local officials. The Commission’s recommendations would have been binding.

All seven members were to have been appointed to the commission by the governor; AJR 10 as originally introduced would have had seats chosen by members of each of the 3 branches of government.

The constitutional amendment needed to be passed by the 2017 session (Nevada’s legislature sits every other year) in order to get on the 2018 ballot. Under Joint Standing Rule No. 14.3.2 final action on a joint resolution may only be taken by the house of origin on or before the 79th calendar day of the legislative session (April 25 for this year).

The existing Commission to Review Compensation, which is created by statute and merely advisory, appears not to have met or held a session since the 1990s (see page 3). That body was to have reviewed the compensation paid to same officials covered by the proposed constitutional amendment. A bill to eliminate the Commission to Review Compensation (AB 126) and others commissions passed the Assembly.

Florida: House considers cutting salaries of “poor performing” judges, transferring to “top performing” judges; 2011 effort for similar “judge bonuses” system rejected

The Florida legislature has reached a stalemate over the state’s budget. Among the issues being discussed, a House plan to reduce the pay of “poor performing” judges and transfer them to “top performing” judges.

Under the House plan (pages 62-86 here)

  • Judges ranked in the top 25 percent would receive a pay increase.
  • Judges ranked from 26 to 74 percent would maintain their base pay.
  • Judges ranked in the bottom 25 percent would have their pay cut. The savings would be transferred to the top performers.

Performance would be based on high clearance rates. Other possible measures include those from the CourTools set of measures (note: CourTools is a product on the National Center for State Courts; Gavel to Gavel is a NCSC product).

While the 2017 bill is coming from the House, a 2011 plan discussed here that made it through various Florida Senate committees would have provided for “bonuses”  judges who cleared cases/had a high clearance rate. That plan was ultimately rejected.

Maine: bill ends state’s judicial compensation commission and merges with other salary commission; Connecticut went in opposite direction in 2012

Since 1995 Maine has had a Judicial Compensation Commission that makes non-binding recommendations to the legislature regarding judicial salary, benefits and retirement. Now a bill has been introduced to end the Commission and transfer its powers to an existing commission.

Currently the Maine State Compensation Commission makes recommendations for salaries for legislators and top executive branch officials (Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Treasurer of State and the State Auditor). Under HP 1006 the Judicial Compensation Commission would end; the State Compensation Commission would make recommendations for judicial salaries plus recommendations for the salary of the state’s governors.

The Maine bill is effectively the opposite of what occurred in Connecticut in 2012 where that state’s legislature created a stand-alone judicial compensation commission and pulled judicial salary issues out of the existing Compensation Commission for Elected State Officers and Judges.

HP 1006 has been filed in the Joint Committee on State and Local Government.

Colorado: Senate committee advances bill repealing 2015 law linking legislative salaries to judicial salaries; executive salaries would still be linked

A 2015 law that links the salaries of Colorado’s state legislators and top executive officials to judicial salaries could be heading for a partial repeal.

SB 288 of 2015, discussed here, made the link for both legislators and top executive branch officials (Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer). Legislators received an amount equal to 25% of the total annual salary paid to the judges of the county court in a Class B county.

SB 288 of 2017 effectively decouples the salaries for legislators. 25% of current salaries for county court in a Class B county would serve as the base-point for legislative salaries starting in 2019. Thereafter, there would be inflation adjustments to the legislative salaries starting in 2025.

SB 288 was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and floor amended earlier this week. It is currently on the Senate’s April 17 floor calendar.

Arizona: Statewide Court Security Fund bill stricken, appears dead for session

A plan to create an Arizona Statewide Court Security Fund discussed here appears to have killed for this legislative session.

Under SB 1161 as approved by the Senate the Fund would have been administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts and used for “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 was subject to a “strike everything” amendment in the House that removed all existing language, the “new” SB 1161 instead focuses on water improvement districts.

West Virginia: bill would specify governor’s power to furloughs employees, including court employees & judges

In February after the state’s credit was downgraded, West Virginia’s Governor asked the legislature for a bill to allow him to furlough employees. An amended version of the Senate bill (SB 446) was approved by the full Senate earlier today.

The bill as introduced, and its House counterpart (HB 2879), was unclear about the power of the governor to furlough judicial employees. (“The furlough must be inclusive of all employees within a designated department, agency, division, office, or program, regardless of the source of funds, place of work, or classification.”)

Under the bill as committee amended and approved by the Senate, the process for judicial furloughs would be out of the governor’s control. Specifically:

  1. The governor is expressly prohibited from ordering a furlough of constitutional officers, employees of constitutional officers, or members or employees of the judicial branch.
  2. When the Governor declares a fiscal emergency pursuant to SB 446, the Supreme Court of Appeals shall have authority to furlough employees and personnel of the judiciary under the Supreme Court of Appeals, including employees and personnel of the circuit courts, family courts and magistrate courts.
  3. Furloughs shall not be employed so as to completely close a court or court office.
  4. Nothing in the section of SB 446 discussing furloughs of judicial branch employees “shall be construed as granting authority for the furlough of elected judicial officers, nor shall it be construed as restricting or otherwise limiting the plenary authority of the Supreme Court of Appeals or the lower courts.”

SB 446 as amended was approved by the Senate 23-11 and is now on its way to the House.

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.