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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Senator defends raises given to state's judges, says needed to ‘maintain the quality’

By Dawn Brotherton | Aug 5, 2016

BATON ROUGE – On July 1, Louisiana judges received an automatic 2.1 percent pay increase as authorized by Act 375, passed in 2013. State Sen. Danny Martiny (R-Metairie) believes that the raises are vital to the judiciary.

Act 375 gave initial raises of 5.5 percent to Supreme Court justices, 3.7 percent for appeals courts judges and 4 percent for district, city and parish court judges. In subsequent years, all judges receive an annual 2.1 percent increase every year through 2017. Supreme Court justices will earn about $172,000 in 2017. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Louisiana's median household income in 2014 was $44,991.

Martiny is the ranking legislator on the Judicial Compensation Commission (JCC), which made the recommendations for the judges' pay increase to keep salaries in line with surrounding states.

“I was skeptical that it (Act 375) would pass," Martiny told the Louisiana Record. “This bill was not my idea. The JCC is duty-bound to assess the judicial salaries and make recommendations. I was the chairman, so I filed the bill.”

“The bill passed overwhelmingly out of the Senate and the House. What probably was the deciding factor was that the Supreme Court agreed to pay the raises out of their budget. I would note that in 22 years as a legislator, I’ve never gotten a raise.”

The raises for the judges are mandated by law. Even though the Legislature cut the judicial budget by about $8 million this year, the raises will have to come out of this budget. According to Martiny, it means that the judiciary will have to cut other items in its budget.

“(The state) has a budget crisis every year,” Martiny said. “We just had to weigh competing interests and at the time, the bill went through. It was necessary to maintain the quality of our judges.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed executive orders this year freezing the pay of state employees in the executive branch, which is expected to save $2.5 million in the last quarter of fiscal year 2016. This measure affects approximately 38,000 employees, according to The Advocate. Just recently, the Civil Service Commission voted to block the annual performance adjustments for all government workers, citing that the state can’t afford to give pay hikes due to the budget cuts.

Louisiana is one of 23 states which have judicial compensation commissions, but many of these commissions, including Louisiana’s, are simply advisory and do not have the authority to actually raise judges' salaries without legislative approval. The National Center for State Courts reports that the average salary for a general jurisdiction judge in Louisiana is about $148,000, while the national average is $149,850. Louisiana ranks at number 25 in salaries for general jurisdiction courts, with the District of Columbia ranking at the top with an annual salary of $201,100 while New Mexico comes in at number 51, with an annual salary of $118,384. For comparison, neighboring states Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas rank 24th, 40th and 15th, respectively.

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