Chief Justice Minton says he'll ask General Assembly for pay raises, judicial redistricting in upcoming budget session

10/20/2017 05:23 PM

FRANKFORT – Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton told lawmakers Friday that he will seek judicial pay raises totaling 10 percent in the upcoming biennial budget, hoping to improve the judiciary’s ability to attract top attorneys to its ranks.

Circuit judges make more than $124,000, which ranks near the bottom nationally, and Administrative Office of the Courts Budget Director Carole Henderson says the proposed 5 percent raises in each year of the biennium will place judicial salaries in Kentucky at 39th in the U.S.

Minton told lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary that if those numbers don’t improve, it’ll be harder to recruit attorneys from high-paying law practices to run for judicial posts. He also said current judges feel “discouraged and undervalued.”

“The longer we postpone attention to this, the more difficult it will be to catch up on lost wages and avoid diminishing the quality long-term of Kentucky’s judiciary,” Minton said during his state of the judiciary address, adding that he would also seek pay raises for circuit clerks and non-elected judicial branch workers.

Minton says pay isn’t the only thing that may keep quality lawyers off judicial ballots.

He expects moving newly elected judges to defined-contribution retirement accounts, as policymakers proposed this week to resolve unfunded pension liabilities of up to $64 billion, will make it more difficult to recruit candidates for the office.

“One of the goals under the old system was to make a pension such that persons would be willing to, after years of practice, be willing to come and accumulate a decent pension in order to make up for those years of earnings lost,” Minton told reporters after the meeting. “Well, the new system won’t do that, so it’s going to complicate and make more difficult our ability to attract people to the bench.”

Minton touched on a range of issues facing Kentucky’s judicial branch of government, such as how courts are grappling with the state’s opioid epidemic in criminal and civil cases, the judiciary’s attention on adoption cases, low daily allowances for jurors, technology initiatives.

But one that doesn’t get much buzz is judicial redistricting, which Minton says will be critical in the upcoming legislative session.

He says he will urge lawmakers to redistrict the state’s judicial circuits in the upcoming session for the first time since 1893, adding that some courts have significantly more cases on their dockets than others.

“There are some critical needs across the state where the system is overburdened and our citizens are not getting access to justice that they are entitled to have,” Minton said.

Sen. John Schickel, who has pushed for redrawing judicial boundaries in recent sessions, agreed and applauded Minton for his attention on the issue.

“In this age when we’re reducing pensions, I don’t think you can overstate of this issue in a coequal branch of government,” said Schickel, R-Union.

“I was provided a list the other day of workloads from different judicial districts, and every time you look at these lists you almost go into shock because you have certain areas of this state where judges are basically working part-time collecting a full-time salary, some of the largest salaries that state employees are paid, and then as you mentioned before, you have other parts of the state where judges are working double time, and it creates a horrible problem to equal access to law for all our citizens.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

2 Comments

Comments

  • JoeB wrote on October 21, 2017 11:25 AM :

    Sounds like redistricting is needed.However I do not necessarily think that judges are entitled to a 10 percent raise at this time due to budget constraints and the pension problems.If they do not want to do the job let them stay in private practice.
    Frankly one of the main causes of the states pension under funding for teachers and state workers is due to the large ridiculous amounts of money appropriated by the General Assembly that was spent on new judicial centers being built across this state in the past. Money for the biggest percentage of these judicial centers was appropriated and many were built during the years of pension under funding.Many of these buildings were too extravagant and too big for what was needed in these low populated rural towns and counties. A lot of these structures dwarf all of the other buildings in their communities.Absolutely ridiculous the amount of money wasted on these structures.The total cost of these structures had to get close to a billion dollars.The annual cost of maintaining these monstrosities has to be a severe drain on small county budgets.This is an issue that definitely needs to be investigated again as there were questions previously raised about the timing,failure to properly bond some projects,etc.

  • Heza Putz wrote on October 21, 2017 03:04 PM :

    Sarah Palin can see the Owen County “Judicial Center” from her house.

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