Commission analyzing state judges’ salaries

A state commission launched a review Tuesday of Louisiana judicial pay with an eye on asking the Louisiana Legislature to raise judicial salaries next year.

The Judicial Compensation Commission decided to hire economist Loren Scott to update a report he did last year comparing how Louisiana judges’ pay compares with national and regional levels.

Scott determined last year that state judges’ pay is lagging behind their counterparts. But the commission did not submit a recommendation to the Legislature because of the state budget crisis.

Commission members advocated sending a recommendation this year and authorized Scott to update his report to see just how far behind judges’ salaries have gotten.

Today, the annual base pay is $136,544 for state district court judges, $142,447 for appeals court judges and $149,572 for Supreme Court justices.

“I don’t want the same thing to happen to the judiciary as what’s happened to the Legislature,” said commission member state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete, noting the stagnant base pay of legislators.

“It’s important we have the information and at least make a written recommendation,” said Marionneaux. “I would not like to see us do nothing for the second year in a row.”

As a result of the commission’s work, judges have received pay raises in eight of the last eleven years, said commission chairman Joe Toomy, a former state representative.

“Those increases approved by the Legislature have in every case been consistent with recommendations of the commission,” he said. “We must look carefully at the recommendation we are going to make.”

Commission member Larry Feldman said the pay raise issue requires a two-part analysis — one that Scott is undertaking and another that’s political in nature because of the need to win legislative approval of any increase.

“What is the political climate for making such a recommendation?” asked Feldman.

Toomy said the political climate is hard to read because a new Legislature will take office in January, just days after the commission’s report is due to lawmakers.

“I just don’t think we are in a position to make that political determination or assess the state fisc (fiscal situation) as well as we could at this time a year ago,” said Toomy.

Marionneaux said state budget woes should not be a commission concern. “It ought to be about bringing to the forefront with the Legislature the lagging behind of judicial pay,” said Marionneaux. “Where the money comes from really is not the commission’s concern.”