AN URGENT MESSAGE FROM CHIEF JUSTICE WALLER

February 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

To Fellow Judges and Members of the Bar:

Last week, the Mississippi Senate passed Senate Bill 2253, which provides a pay increase for our trial and appellate judges. This increase is essential for preserving a well qualified and independent judiciary. We need your support. Please contact your representative in the House and encourage them to support SB 2253.

According to the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), Mississippi ranks 51st in the nation in terms of judicial pay. Mississippi judges, furthermore, have not had a pay increase since 2003. Two disturbing trends have developed as a result of the low level of judicial pay. First, the salaries of other public officials have far outpaced that of judges. For example, the Chairman of the Workers’ Compensation Commission is paid more than every trial judge in the State and the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals – despite the fact that the Commission’s decisions are reviewed by the trial and appellate judges. Second, and even more disconcerting, is the high rate of turnover we have experienced recently.  Twenty-one new judges have taken office during the last two years. I know from personal conversations that the low level of pay is one of the main reasons that many judges are leaving office. The proposed salary increases in SB 2253 would make Mississippi’s judicial pay comparable to our neighboring states. The increases set forth in SB 2253 would make each judge and justice’s salary equal to seventy percent of the salary of an equivalent judge at the federal level. And significantly, no general funds are used for this increase. Funding is primarily derived from user fees. The pay increase, furthermore, is not effective until FY 2013. Admittedly, this increase is substantial, somewhere in the thirty percent range. Much of the debate has centered around the arguments that, given the dire economic climate, this is not the proper time to give anyone a raise, and that all state employees deserve a pay increase. We are aware and sensitive to both of these concerns. These pay increases, however, are funded by user fees. Moreover, Mississippi judges have been underpaid for quite some time. We need the best and the brightest of the legal profession making decisions that dramatically impact the lives of our citizens. The only way to attract and retain such individuals is to provide a competitive level of pay.

Below are a few arguments in support of SB 2253 that you may find helpful:

  • 51st in the Nation. According to the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), Mississippi has the lowest paid judges in the nation.
  • High Turnover. Not counting the newly created judicial posts, twenty-one new trial judges have taken office in the past two years. This is an unprecedented rate of turnover, which impedes the efficiency of our courts.
  • Need for Realignment. The Chairman of the Workers’ Compensation Commission earns $112,436, and a Commission member earns $108,698. This is more than any trial judge or Court of Appeals judge, including the Chief Judge.
  • Funded by User Fees. Funding for this pay increase is derived primarily from user fees. The civil filing fee will increase $40. Our civil filing fees will still be the lowest in the southeast.
  • Delayed Implementation. The pay increase is not effective until FY 2013.
  • Other State Employees. Non-elected state employees have had three pay increases since 2003. And some executive personnel have had very substantial increases during this same period. For example, in May 2010, the Department of Public Safety Administrator received a $16,000 salary increase (from $122,115 to $138,115). A number of other Department of Public Safety employees received raises of 20 percent or higher between July 2008 and March 2010.

 

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