Judicial compensation makes news

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Back row, left to right: Justice Mary Beth Kelly; Justice Stephen J. Markman; Justice Diane M. Hathaway; Justice Brian K. Zahra; Front row, left to right: Justice Michael F. Cavanagh; Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr.; Justice Marilyn Kelly

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

 The salaries of Michigan Supreme Court justices, on which the pay of other judges across the state is based, have been frozen since 2001.

Now the State Officers Compensation Commission, in a surprise move, has recommended a 3 per cent increase for two years in a row, starting in 2013.

In part this is surprising because the commission, which a 1968 amendment to the constitution  charged with determining the salary of state leaders, recommended no increase for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general or other elected officials.

In a move that is perhaps not as surprising, the Supreme Court released the following response:

“The judges of Michigan appreciate that the State Officers Compensation Commission has recognized that a freeze on judicial compensation for over a decade is not good public policy.  Our priority continues to be to make the justice system right-sized, smarter, more user-friendly and more accountable. We appreciate the recommendation for an increase in compensation.  Given the continued budgetary situation of the state, however, we would understand if the legislature chose not to increase judicial salaries at this time. We are confident that as Michigan’s recovery progresses, the issue will be revisited.”

The statement enjoys the support of the Michigan Judges Association, the Michigan Probate Judges Association, the Michigan District Court Judges Association, and the Michigan Judicial Conference:

The State Bar of Michigan released its own statement:

“The State Bar of Michigan commends the judges of Michigan for putting the state’s budget situation ahead of their own personal interests by urging the Legislature not to adopt the State Officers Compensation Commission’s recommendation for increases in judicial salaries at this time.  The judges have not had a pay increase since 2002 and like other public employees and officials in Michigan are dealing with decreasing benefits.  While the SOCC recommendation is more than justified, the judges have recognized that the more urgent need is to make sure that the court system can function in this changing economy, serving the public more efficiently while protecting access to justice. In the long run, the court system will be undermined if judicial pay is allowed to stagnate indefinitely. This is not the right time to fix that problem.”

Legislators appeared to be disinclined to approve the pay increases regardless. According to the well-respected source Gongwer News — which calls itself The Capitol Record Since 1906 — “Indications from the Legislature point toward lack of support for the State Officers Compensation Commission's unexpected recommendation...”

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