Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor acknowledged “the elephant in the room” - judicial pay - when she spoke to hundreds of the state’s judges on Thursday.
Ohio’s judges have not had a pay raise since 2007, dropping the $121,350 annual salary of trial-court judges to $20,300 below the national average and making the state 42nd among the 50 states.
O’Connor used her State of the Judiciary address to the Ohio Judicial Conference to make a case for higher salaries for judges. She told them that she’s lobbying lawmakers to act on the “ extremely troubling” lack of raises.
“Without an effort to make judicial salaries more competitive, sitting judges will look to jump to private practice and potential judges won’t give the bench the time of day or consideration," she said at the Hilton Easton.
“Choosing a career in public service shouldn’t mean being saddled with a stagnant salary for the entire time you serve on the bench,” she said.
The chief justice said she has discussed “modest annual cost-of living increases” with legislative leaders.
One idea that has been discussed, O’Connor said, is the appointment of a commission to recommend pay raises for judges and others to the General Assembly.
Legislators, county elected officials and township trustees also long have gone without a bump in pay – 2008 in their case. Lawmakers have gone 14 years since they last authorized raises for themselves, judges and others.
Given the coming exodus of judges – nearly 100 of the state’s 720 judges are in their last terms due to the mandatory retirement age of 70 – judicial salaries must rise to attract qualified candidates, O’Connor said.
She urged the judges to sell the importance of the courts, and their specialized programs and dockets that treat drug abusers and address mental health and other issues, to the public.
The chief justice also brought up money in the context of court funding, which now is being studied by a Supreme Court task force. It estimates that Ohio spends $1.1 billion a year to operate its courts, with $147.2 million coming from the state.
“That represents less than one-half of one percent of the state budget,” she said. The remainder of the funding comes from court costs and local governments.
“It’s not a stretch to say that quite possibly Ohio courts are underfunded,” she said. "That is very, very true and accurate statement."
By Randy Ludlow - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services