Wisconsin’s woes and a ramification particular to the state’s jurists

A large amount of media attention has been turned towards Wisconsin and a bill being advanced by the state’s governor to require state employees to pay more for their benefits and to limit collective bargaining rights in the state (Special Session AB 11, the “Budget Repair Bill.”) In the ensuing fight between protesters, the governor, and the legislature (a large portion of whom appear to have fled the state to avoid making a quorum for action), less attention has been paid to provisions related to retirement and benefit changes and their unique and specific implications for the third branch and its employees.

Of particular note is a proposed change to the pension calculation/multiplier for judges and other elected officials. Changes to these judicial calculations “appl[y] to creditable service that is performed on the day on which the next supreme court justice, court of appeals judge, or circuit court judge assumes office after the effective date of this paragraph.” (This is the normal effective date for changes in compensation for the judiciary.) A similar provision applies to other elected officials.

However, whereas most Wisconsin officials are elected in even years and would therefore not be subject to this until January 2013 or 2015, Wisconsin judges are elected in April elections each year. This year alone, there are one supreme court justice, two court of appeals judges, and 41 circuit court judges up for election on April 5. Therefore, it is anticipated this provision for Wisconsin’s judiciary will become effective when they take office this year (i.e on or before August 1, 2011.)

KY: Public financing for judicial elections?

Perhaps in anticipation of an expected 2012 Supreme Court election in the state, or as a reaction to judicial elections in other states, the Kentucky legislature will be considering a bill (HB 21) this year to create a public financing system for all judges in the state, paid for in part by a $25 annual assessment on all members of the Kentucky Bar Association. If adopted, Kentucky’s public financing system for judicial races might be the most expansive in the nation. Similar programs in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and New Mexico are limited to appellate courts only. A fourth program (West Virginia) adopted in 2010 is limited to only the state’s 2012 Supreme Court race.