Judicial raises of 3 percent proposed in Michigan

By Gary Gosselin

Dolan Media Newswires

Michigan judges should get a 3 percent raise in 2015, decided the State Officers Compensation Commission.

That's a turnaround from earlier discussions centered on 3 percent in 2015 and another 3 percent in 2016 and potentially requesting as much as 5 percent.

Commissioner David Fink, a Bloomfield Hills attorney, had been pushing for two 3 percent increases, and had some discussions about asking for as much as 5 percent.

Commissioner James ''Mick'' Middaugh, a former member of the Michigan House of Representatives, proposed only 3 percent in 2015 and to revisit the issue in two years.

Fink proposed to amend to include the additional 3 percent for 2016, but was voted down 5-4.

He reminded the panel that with the rate of inflation, the cost of living has increased nearly 30 percent since the last raise, noting that nonelected state employees have seen increases of more than 25 percent.

"It was a step in the right direction and fair," Middaugh told Michigan Lawyers Weekly after the meeting. "The 3 percent doesn't even it out, but it's a step in the right direction."

He noted that two years ago, the commission had suggested two 3 percent pay increases and that the Michigan Supreme Court, the State Bar of Michigan and all three judicial associations said, "No, thanks."

"They had an opportunity two years ago and did not take advantage..." Middaugh said.

The vote is technically a raise to the Supreme Court justices, but all other judge salaries are tied to the justices. So, if approved, all Michigan judges would get 3 percent raises in 2015.

About 600 judges would be affected, and the cost of a 3 percent raise is about $2.5 million per year.

"I'm satisfied because I think it has the possibility of acceptance by the Legislature," said SOCC Chairman Larry Meyer, former president of the Michigan Retailers Association. "It certainly will be reviewed in two years."

The SOCC also oversees compensation for the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and legislators. They were contacted, Meyer said, and none of those have requested pay increases.

Had the Legislature been asked to approve the 6 percent, some on the panel said they thought the legislature would balk, and the whole request would be turned down. Any increase has to be approved by concurrent resolution adopted by a majority in each house.

"We're glad to have received a recommendation for a raise, and we're hoping this will be approved by the Legislature," State Court Administrator Chad Schmucker told MiLW. "The fiscal crisis is not over yet in Michigan, and you can't be overconfident on any expenditure item."

"We believe that 13 years is a long time to wait for a raise, and this is a fairly modest raise, given that time period, and we're hoping it's well received by the Legislature."

Fink reminded the panel that the Legislature has the ability to decrease the amount, and noted that if it's not requested, the lgislature has nothing to work with if they want to modify a proposal.

"I do think that a couple of them voted that way because they believe the single [3 percent] pay increase was more likely to make it through,'' Fink said. ''I felt that if the increase were too high, the legislature has the authority to lower the compensation--they don't have the ability to raise it."

Schmucker pointed out that since Michigan's last judicial raise, there have been 250 raises in the other states--all states had raises, except Michigan.

"A handful have had one or two, but the average is five raises,'' Schmucker said. ''They may be small, but it tells you a good working compensation system has [incremental increases]. I think this gets us back on track to getting regular small raises rather than a big [time] gap and trying to make it up."

Michigan Supreme Court justices earn $164,610; Court of Appeals judges make $151,441; circuit and probate judges make $139,919; and district court judges earn $138,272.

Published: Thu, Jun 13, 2013