Kentucky judges need to be paid more, Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. told state lawmakers Friday.
In his annual State of the Judiciary Address, Minton said Kentucky’s 284 justices and judges are among the lowest paid in the country and last in salaries among judges in surrounding states.
Minton said he will ask Kentucky’s 2018 General Assembly to provide 5 percent pay raises for judges in each year of the two-year budget it will enact. That would cost taxpayers about $1.8 million in the first year and $3.8 million in the second year.
Annual salaries for judges in Kentucky range from $140,504 for the chief justice to $112,668 for district judges.
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Since 2007, Kentucky judges have received two years of 1 percent raises and two years of $400 raises, said Minton.
“It’s been a decade since our judges have received any real boost in compensation and new judges coming on the bench are facing low salaries and recent reductions in pension benefits,” the chief justice told members of the legislature’s judiciary committees.
“This lack of progress has left our current judges feeling discouraged and undervalued,” he said. “It also provides little incentive for the best and brightest attorneys to leave lucrative law practices to mount expensive campaigns for judicial office.”
Laurie K. Dudgeon, director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts, told lawmakers that Minton and she are aware that raising salaries of public officials is not popular, “but we need to attract talent.”
Some lawmakers Friday voiced support for Minton’s proposal.
“I want to go on record supporting judicial raises,” said Rep. Lew Nicholls, D-Greenup, a former family court judge. “I know how hard they work.”
Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, said Kentucky should not be proud that its judicial pay is among the lowest in the nation. Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, asked Minton to provide legislators with beginning salaries of judges in other states.
Minton also gave lawmakers updates on several judicial issues.
He said the state’s courts system put in “countless hours” in recent months to implement House Bill 40, which allows certain non-violent felons who have served their sentences to clear their records.
“As part of our preparations, we revised legal forms, updated our electronic case management system to communicate with other state agencies and changed our eFiling program so attorneys can file expungement cases electronically,” Minton said.
Since the law took effect July 15, the state has received requests for expungement of 8,400 criminal record reports, he said.
That is about twice the number requested at this time last year, said the chief justice. He noted that the numbers include misdemeanor expungements, which were already allowed, as well as felony expungements.
Minton also said a bill that went into effect Jan. 1 that gives civil protection to victims of dating violence, sexual assault and stalking is generating about 70 cases each month in state courts.
The chief justice told lawmakers that the courts system will present a comprehensive judicial redistricting plan to state lawmakers next year and that it will hold an education summit next January in Louisville for judges on the state’s opioid epidemic.
Kentucky Judicial Salaries
Supreme Court Chief Justice: $140,504
Supreme Court Justice: $135,504
Court of Appeals Chief Judge: $133,044
Court of Appeals Judge: $130,044
Circuit/Family Court Chief Regional Circuit Judge: $125,620
Circuit/Family Judge: $124,620
District Court Chief Regional District Judge: $113,668
District Judge: $112,668
Source: Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts