ATLANTA — Top state judges urged Capitol budget writers last week to back a plan to tie their pay to that of their federal colleagues, giving them a big salary boost well above what other state employees have received in recent years.
The judges say the salaries of members of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and superior courts often can’t compete with what big law firms pay, and that prevents some qualified candidates from applying for the jobs when they are open.
The message last week at a joint hearing of the House and Senate budget committees was delivered mostly by Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Boggs and Justice Charlie Bethel — both former state lawmakers — and Presiding Justice Nels S.D. Peterson, a counsel to Sonny Perdue when he was governor. All have experience dealing with the politics of state budget writing.
In fact, Bethel was serving in the Georgia Senate in 2015 and handled legislation that gave top judges raises up to $12,000 the last time there was a successful major push in the General Assembly for a big judicial pay raise.
Peterson told the committees: “Retention has become a serious problem. I can list anecdote after anecdote of judges who have left the bench because they can’t afford to serve anymore.
“In my court, the Supreme Court, in just the last three years, we have seen three of our justices in a position where they needed to leave to be able to afford college for their kids.”
Bethel said there are currently three superior court judgeships open and one on the Court of Appeals.
The proposal approved by an ad hoc Judicial Council committee earlier this year would raise the base pay of Supreme Court justices from $186,112 a year to $223,400, Court of Appeals justices from $184,990 to $212,230, and Superior Court judges from $141,970 to $201,060.
The superior court pay is somewhat misleading because $141,970 is what the state pays. Counties can supplement those salaries — and some do much more than others.
In 2015, when judges were selling a plan to boost pay, backers said judges hadn’t received a raise in 16 years. However, they’d gotten the same cost-of-living increases as every other state employee.
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