Gov. gets judicial pay-hike bill

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The Senate passed legislation Wednesday giving judges their first pay raise in nine years.
The proposal, which provides an increase of slightly more than 7.5 percent annually over a four-year period, already passed the House and now goes to Gov. Phil Bryant. Only four senators voted against it.
Mick Bullock, a spokesman for the governor, said Bryant would consider the proposal once it reaches his desk.
“The issue is the public deserves the best and brightest judges, and we have to have an increase in pay to do that,” said state Supreme Court Chief Justice William L. Waller Jr., who was at the Capitol when the Senate passed the bill.
Pay for district attorneys and assistant district attorneys would increase by a similar percentage.
The pay raises for judges would come from a $40 increase on court filings, such as for filing a lawsuit or for other civil activity in chancery and circuit court, and a $100 increase for filings with the appellate courts. The money for the prosecutors’ raise would come from a $10 increase on many fines, such as traffic violations, game and fish violations and other crimes.
Waller said the bill takes several steps to remove politics from the issue of judicial pay and helps to ensure the judiciary remains an independent branch of government. The legislation requires the state Personnel Board to make a report to the Legislature on judicial pay every four years, based on comparisons of judicial pay in Southeastern states, of university professors and of attorneys in the private sector.
Chancery and circuit judges currently earn $104,170 per year, compared to the Southeastern average of $138,901. Under the bill, the trial judges’ pay would increase to $112,127 on Jan. 1, 2013, and would top out at $136,000 in January 2016. The chief justice would earn $159,000 by 2016. The pay for other appellate judges would be between that of trial judges and the chief justice.
The pay of district attorneys would increase from its current amount of $95,796 to $104,322 in 2013 to $125,900 in 2016.
Northeast Mississippi Sens. Nickey Browning, D-Pontotoc, and Rita Potts Parks, R-Corinth, voted against the proposal.
Some have argued that the increases in court filings would negatively affect average Mississippians who need to use the judicial system. And some also questioned providing a pay raise when some state employees faced the possibility of layoffs because of budget woes.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com