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 1161 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.

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?

New Mexico debates a “benchmark” of at least 3% of state general fund for state judiciary, South Carolina a guaranteed 1%

Should states guarantee or “benchmark” a minimum amount of general funds go to their judiciaries? As I discussed here, the topic has been debated since at least the 1970s as a way to keep court funding out of the political arena and help provide a (more) stable source of revenue for the branch. The debate is now being renewed in modified forms in New Mexico and South Carolina in 2017.

The New Mexico House Judiciary committee voted 10-3 yesterday to approve HB 81 as amended. Rather than a guarantee the bill as introduced “benchmarked” at least 3% of the state’s general fund after various payments were made. The amended version removed the various other payments and now reads in operative part.

Appropriations to the judiciary shall be benchmarked at not less than three percent of the recurring general fund appropriation for the next fiscal year. The provisions of this act apply to fiscal year 2018 and succeeding fiscal years.

HB 81 now goes to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

In South Carolina for the 4th year in a row a member of the Senate has proposed a constitutional amendment to provide 1% of general fund for the judiciary, this year as SJR 69 of 2017.

The General Assembly, in the annual general appropriations act, shall appropriate, out of the estimated revenue of the general fund for the fiscal year for which the appropriations are made, to the Judicial Department an amount equal to one percent of the general fund revenue of the latest completed fiscal year.

Previous versions (SJR 72 of 2013/2014 and SJR 317 of 2015/2016) failed to advance out of committee.

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.