PATSY R. BRUMFIELD: State judges long overdue for pay hike

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

You’ve gotten yourself into a jam legally. Your entire future, perhaps your family’s entire future, is a stake.
You’ve hired the best attorney you can afford and you’re ready to press your case in court.
Your case may get a jury or it may just be for a judge to decide it. Either way, the judge is the one who decides what law applies to this case and what evidence will be considered.
So, you enter the courtroom with much anticipation and preparation, only to learn that your judge is someone you know barely got out of law school and failed miserably as a private attorney but was popular enough to get elected.
Big gulp.
We Mississippi voters elect virtually all our state judges and, generally, a judicial candidate’s courtroom knowledge or skills has little bearing on election success.
Candidates are attorneys who want to be judges or are suggested by groups of concerned citizens who want to see good judges on the bench.
That said, we don’t always get what we hope for – good judges.
Judges serve a vital role in our society. Their decisions impact directly on the lives and liberties of the people before them.
But basic economic principals are culling their ranks.
It’s getting more difficult to attract good candidates and keep good judges because Mississippi doesn’t pay well enough.
That seems a bit relative when millions of Americans are out of work and can’t find jobs at all.
Still, we must have good judges.
Few seeking judgeships anywhere expect to earn what a successful law practice will bring, but they do hope to be paid enough for the difficult job they take on.
Looking across the South, the annual salary for a trial judge – like a circuit or chancery judge – ranges from a high of $158,000 in Virginia to the low of $104,000 in Mississippi.
Moving up the scale to the chief justice of the state supreme court, Virginia is high at $191,500 to Mississippi’s low of $115,000.
Compare that with our commissioner of corrections at $132,760 or the new House speaker’s chief of staff at $110,000.
Mississippi’s judges are the lowest paid in the nation. They haven’t received a pay increase since 2003.
Good judges are leaving the bench usually to go back into private practice.
The Mississippi Legislature has before it a bill to raise judges’ pay in increments across four years by increasing court filing fees. It’s a user fee, paid by people who use the courts.
This isn’t from tax revenues and won’t impact the state budget.
Judges generally are uncomfortable as lobbyists.
So, to our legislators: This bill is a reasonable solution that’s long overdue.
Patsy R. Brumfield writes a Thursday column. If you agree that our judges should be paid better, call your legislator at (601) 359-3770.