Chief Justice Minton says judges need higher wages, will present judicial redistricting plan next legislative session

09/23/2016 05:12 PM

FRANKFORT – A plan to redistrict the state’s court system will be presented to the General Assembly next session in hopes of bringing more parity to judicial caseloads, Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton told the interim joint Judiciary Committee on Friday.

Minton, who complimented lawmakers and Gov. Matt Bevin for the two-year budget passed this year, has been a vocal advocate for judicial pay raises in recent budget-writing sessions. His request to increase the jurists’ salaries as lawmakers crafted the current biennial budget during this year’s session failed, but Minton made clear that he will continue the push in 2018.

Judges in Kentucky are the lowest paid compared to their peers in neighboring states, Minton said. Salaries range from $112,668 for district court judges and $140,504 for chief justice of the Supreme Court, with only marginal raises since 2007.

“Stagnant salaries have left many of our current judges feeling discouraged and undervalued,” Minton said during his state of the judiciary address. “It also provides little incentive, really, for the best and the brightest lawyers to leave a lucrative law practice and mount an expensive campaign for election to judicial office.”

“The longer we postpone any action on this, mister chairman, the more difficult it will be to make up for the lost ground on wages and avoid sacrificing the quality of the future of Kentucky’s judiciary.

Minton’s push for paying judges more had support from some members of the judiciary panel, such as Rep. Lew Nicholls, a retired circuit court judge.

“I know the good work that they do, and I know how competent they are,” said Nicholls, D-Greenup. “I’ve seen it, and I had more of an opportunity to see that as a senior judge when I started traveling throughout northeastern Kentucky doing that.”

Judicial redistricting will be a more pressing topic for lawmakers, however.

Minton says he will present a comprehensive redistricting plan circuit, district and family courts for the General Assembly’s consideration in the upcoming legislative session. The Administrative Office of the Courts is working with the National Center for State Courts as well as the Judicial Workload Assessment Committee, a panel appointed by Minton that includes judges, circuit court clerks, prosecutors and legislators, on a redistricting strategy, Minton said.

A subcommittee of the JWAC is drafting recommendations that is expected to take until 2030, when terms for all judges and prosecutors will pass, to fully implement, he said.

“This proposal will look at, first of all, addressing what we call the hotspots,” Minton said.

“These are places across the state where we would identify areas that are in obvious need, obvious existence of disparate caseloads that require attention in the short-term. The subcommittee’s looking at a proposal that aligns judicial circuit and district boundary lines at are currently different … and finally to provide a plan to phase in family court, which would fulfill the constitutional mandate of having family court sit statewide.”

Minton says he hopes that judicial redistricting becomes “an ongoing effort at AOC to make sure that we stay current.”

“I would expect that in the future we won’t wait so long for things to even out,” he told reporters. “We’ll just keep this matter under review periodically and report back to the General Assembly.”

Minton also discussed the courts’ efforts in implementing new legislation, such as low-level felony expungement and juvenile justice reform, and moving to a statewide electronic filing system.


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