Who’s gotten the biggest pay raises in Louisiana among its class of employees over the past 11 years? Statewide elected officials have gotten a small increase, and so have legislators, if you count their per diems, but it isn’t either. Not even state classified employees, until the last two or three years (depending on what your job was) did get hikes of four percent annually in most cases. Don’t even consider unclassified employees, the majority of whom work in higher education and have seen little in the way of any salary increase in this century.
No, it’s judges, whose salaries have about doubled over that time span, although they did not get anything in the past year. And now the body, largely represented by members of the judiciary or those of the profession whose members comprise it, lawyers, charged with recommendations on this matter thinks there should be another hike over the next two years, although it graciously wants to hold their size to about, in aggregate, half of the typical rate of the past.
The Judicial Compensation Commission, whose recommendation needs legislative approval for anything to happen, argues that Louisiana’s elected state judges are falling behind their comrades in other similar states. One of its judicial members decries that salaries are so low it discourages people to serve in these posts, as “They can't afford to be judges” on the current salary.
Which qualifies, if not wins, as the whopper of the year coming from a state elected official. Gaining election to judgeships in Louisiana, even of the local kind, is considered like winning the lottery until legally-forced retirement. This is because you set your own schedule, have the legal community fawn about you, don’t have to deal with clients or employers, and have a job virtually for life at a salary higher than many lawyers make anyway. This is why, whenever an incumbent steps down, there’s a mad rush to get elected, with large monies spent on campaigns (legally, by organizations on behalf of a candidate instead of the candidate). And once elected, short of some disastrous ethical breach, either the Louisiana Supreme Court or Senate will not have you removed, nor will you even be opposed for reelection (if so on occasion, not seriously) much less lose any such bid (with the very rare exception).
In fact, demand so much exceeds supply for these posts that probably salaries could be cut in half and there still would be a land rush on for any open seat, such are the perquisites of it. Don’t be fooled: these positions are highly sought after at any salary level. As such, any justification that salaries need improving to attract takers, much less talented ones is reduced singly to the mere consideration of whether it pays a living wage. And, yes, at pushing 150 G’s annually, it does.
Also failing as an argument supporting the raise is the comparison with other states. Just because they have higher rates doesn’t mean their judges aren’t overpaid as well. This is not to say that judges do not work hard and perform a necessary job usually well. But neither is it to say they are underpaid and deserve a raise. Note also that nobody is holding a gun to their heads to do it, so any judge dissatisfied at not getting a raise is free to resign or to not run for reelection. Oddly enough, I don’t think there would be any takers for that at any time in the future even if salaries were frozen until the 22nd Century.
Judicial pay increases at current pay levels are a luxury affordable only in flush times. For the foreseeable future, that does not describe Louisiana’s fiscal environment. The Legislature needs to stow this request for better times.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 07:20