Chief justice supports pay raises, bill to change process

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) - Michigan's top judge said Tuesday that a state panel's potential impending recommendation to raise judicial pay is "symbolic" and lawmakers should approve legislation changing how salaries are set so the process is less political.

A day before the State Officers Compensation Committee held a rare meeting, Chief Justice Robert Young told The Associated Press he doubts the Legislature would OK a raise even if the panel recommends one.

"Anything the SOCC will do will be symbolic," he said in a phone interview. "Subsequent to (a 2002) constitutional change, it's made it politically impossible for the Legislature to respond. It's just too politically toxic."

Legislators set salaries for Supreme Court justices, who make $164,610. Appeal and trial judges' pay is based on a percentage of justices' salaries. They earn between around $138,000 and $151,000.

Young, while still urging the committee to recommend a "reasonable" pay increase in a Monday letter, said it is more realistic to push a bill that won overwhelming approval in the Senate in March. It would automatically tie future pay hikes for judges - except Supreme Court justices - to cost-of-living increases given to executive branch employees.

Michigan is the only state where trial judges have not received a pay hike in nearly 15 years, Young said.

"You want to have a bench where there's a prospect of having the best and brightest lawyers in the state. We're getting to a point now where that is no longer a possibility," he said,

In 2011, the compensation panel proposed that justices get 3 percent raises in 2013 and 2014. The Supreme Court and groups representing more than 500 trial-level judges asked the Legislature to reject the recommendation, citing the state's economic troubles.

In 2013, the committee recommended a 3 percent increase for 2015, but lawmakers did not act on it.

Young said the judiciary is doing its part to save money - phasing out judgeships, equipping courts with video conferencing, measuring performance and leading special substance abuse, mental health and veterans courts to reduce recidivism.

Published: Thu, May 14, 2015