By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
The Mississippi Legislature has been considering a proposal to increase pay for the judiciary – primarily funded through an increase in the cost to file civil lawsuits. The proposal has passed the Senate, but was defeated last week in the House. Some House members expressed concerns about providing a raise during the state’s current budget troubles. Supporters point out the pay raise would have been funded through users of the court system.
The issue could be revived in the House, but chances of passage now are iffy at best.
Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller Jr., answered three questions recently on why he believes the pay raise is important.
Q: You have been active in trying to pass through the Mississippi Legislature a pay raise for the judiciary, including district attorneys and assistant district attorneys. Why is it important to deal with the issue this session?
A: The pay raise is about attracting and retaining the best and brightest people to serve in our judiciary. We are losing good judges to private practice more and more frequently as Mississippi falls further and further behind in compensating judges. We now rank 51st in the nation. In order for the raises to have gone into effect in FY 2013, collection of user fees would have to begin July 1. That is why it was important for the Legislature to address the issue this session.
Q: What would the bill you support entail?
A: SB2253, which the House considered (Thursday), would have implemented the pay increase over a five-year period. Over that five-year span, a trial judge’s salary would have increased incrementally from $104,170 to $136,000. The increase would have been funded by court costs and user fees.
Q: Do you think the issue of adequate pay could have an adverse long-term impact on the Mississippi judiciary?
A: Every citizen recognizes the saying, “You get what you pay for.” There is no doubt that inadequate pay has had, and will continue to have, an adverse impact on the ability of our state to attract qualified attorneys to the bench. An even larger issue is judicial independence. Our judiciary cannot – and will not – be subject to any outside or other special interest. Adequate pay is a safeguard to judicial independence.