State Bar of Georgia
State Bar of Georgia

Georgia Bar Journal
February 2024, Vol. 29, No. 4

Competitive, Consistent Pay for Georgia Judges

I have always said that my favorite job was serving as a trial judge in the State Court of DeKalb County. But in 2011, I faced a pivotal decision for financial reasons. 几年前的股市崩盘使我的积蓄荡然无存, 我也无法再用我的法官工资支付孩子们私立学校的学费了.

I had to make a difficult choice: leave a job that I loved or remove my children from the only school they had ever known. For me, that, ultimately, was an easy decision. I resigned from the bench and returned to private law practice, where I could make a significantly better living.

I am not the only judge in Georgia who has faced the difficult choice to leave the bench—far from it. Many jurists have left the bench for financial reasons, 由此推论,我们州有很多成功的律师, especially in the Atlanta area, do not become judges simply because we do not pay them well enough.

Hopefully, that will change in the near future. During the current session of the Georgia General Assembly, legislation that would reform our state’s judicial compensation system in a comprehensive manner and significantly improve judicial salaries is under consideration. HB 947, sponsored by Rep. Rob Leverett (R-Elberton), an attorney, 众议院以压倒性多数通过了该法案,截至2月11日. 23 was under review in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

This legislative attention is certainly welcome and long overdue. A 2016 report found that Georgia’s judicial compensation system was “riddled with anomalies and inconsistencies,2022年12月的一份报告发现,许多不一致和差异仍然存在. Compared to other states, 目前,乔治亚州最高法院法官的薪酬在全美排名第32位, 23rd for Court of Appeals judges and 49th for the state-funded portion of compensation to Superior Court judges (ahead of only West Virginia).

It is worth noting that Georgia’s entire judicial budget, as allocated for fiscal year 2024, accounts for only 0.6% of state government spending.

我在格鲁吉亚司法人员薪金和津贴特设委员会司法理事会任职. The Judicial Council, under the leadership of Presiding Justice Nels Peterson and Justice Charlie Bethel of the Supreme Court of Georgia, 在与莱弗里特和其他立法领导人就该提案进行合作方面发挥了重要作用, which if it becomes law, would:

  • 解决高等法院法官薪酬方面长期存在的巨大差异;
  • 为国家支付的法官的薪酬提供稳定性和可预测性;
  • Address the stagnation in judicial pay; and
  • Account for differences in cost of living.

Under the reform model, Georgia’s national salary rankings would improve to 15th for Supreme Court justices and 12th for Court of Appeals judges. 在州内不同的司法巡回法院之间有很大的不同, 乔治亚州一些高等法院法官的工资在全国排名第45位, while others rank as high as fifth. The reform model would improve the lowest ranking from 45th to 14th; the highest ranking would remain at fifth in the nation with an optional locality pay, which would be limited to 10% of the state salary.

For a broader view on the need for judicial pay reform, 我联系了另外三位前乔治亚州的法学家,他们因为和我一样的原因离开了法官席. 我要感谢前乔治亚州最高法院首席大法官哈罗德·梅尔顿, former Supreme Court of Georgia Justice Keith Blackwell and former DeKalb County State Court Judge Dax López for sharing their individual perspectives.

Having served on a commission created by former Gov. 内森·迪尔,并在近十年前由已故的首席大法官哈里斯·海恩斯监督, 梅尔顿指出,目前的立法努力实际上是多年来的.

“There was a time when it was harder to make people believe that an increase in pay was necessary to maintain and recruit a good pool of judges to select from,” said Melton, now a partner at Troutman Pepper in Atlanta. “But I think we’re actually at the point now where that is the case. 显然,法官们在从事这项工作时,知道公共服务有很大的折扣. The gap is pretty big, though. That discount is becoming steeper and steeper.”

梅尔顿在进入私人执业前在最高法院工作了16年, 当时他说他正在“盯着”孩子们的大学学费. He said the dual challenge of retaining and replacing experienced judges should be of concern to all Georgians.

“你确实面临着法官在10年或15年后离职的前景,”他说. “If you want to keep the judges past that point, there probably will need to be some type of financial incentive. It really is more acute with the appellate court judges because you are more likely to be in the Atlanta metro area, either because that’s where you live or because that’s where you’re traveling to on a regular basis and you have to have some form of housing if you’re substantially away from the Atlanta area, further than Macon, perhaps.”

Reducing the inconsistency in local supplements for Superior Court judges among Georgia’s judicial circuits and how that impacts the pay difference between trial court judges and statewide appellate court judges is also a key component of reform, Melton said.

“上诉法官没有地铁巡回法院的补充, so that the supplements bring the trial court judges well above what the appellate court judges are making,” he noted. “我认为这是一个非常重要的系统,需要考虑如何进行重组. It really is a haphazard system as it exists right now, the net effect being that probably at least one-third of the trial court judges make more than the appellate court judges. It takes some real effort to try to right-size salary structure and create a structure going forward that makes sense.”

梅尔顿说,他很高兴立法机关正在解决司法薪酬问题. “Judges make enough where people don’t feel sorry for them, 在今天的预算环境下,人们通常首先关注教师, correctional officers and things along those lines,” he said. “法官和惩教人员的情况完全不同.

“But your good judges have options. We want the judges who could be doing something else. If they could be doing something else, there’s a good chance they could be making at least double, easily. 对他们中的许多人来说,三到四倍的钱并不太可能. The judges aren’t asking the Legislature to pay them twice as much. But there are some things I think judges want to be able to provide for that a pay raise would be very helpful toward.”

Blackwell, a judge on the Court of Appeals of Georgia prior to serving as a Supreme Court justice from 2012 through 2020 and who is now senior counsel with Alston & Bird in Atlanta, amplified the differences between private practice income potential and that for members of the judiciary. 他还表示,有必要制定“建立框架”的立法条款 ... to keep judicial compensation from inflation-driven diminution.”

“没有人进入——或者至少,没有人应该进入——公共服务部门来致富,”他说. “Public service inevitably involves personal sacrifice, and notwithstanding the sacrifice, 我们很幸运,有许多有才华的律师愿意为格鲁吉亚的司法服务. 但是,我们对法官的个人牺牲的期望是有限的. If we want to continue to attract talented men and women to judicial service—and to keep them there—we have to pay them a comparatively fair wage in the context of the legal market. That first-year associates at Atlanta law firms are now paid substantially more than our appellate judges is just wrong, and it is an impediment to keeping good judges on the bench.”

布莱克威尔补充说:“然而,给我们的法官一次性加薪是不够的. Looking to the future, 司法赔偿必须与生活费用的增长保持同步, and in Georgia, it historically has not. For instance, 我在上诉法院和最高法院的十年司法生涯中, my annual compensation in real dollars decreased by nearly $20,000. [Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator.] Year after year, the buying power of my judicial salary was diminished by inflation, and as my children entered high school, started driving and began to look at colleges, 对我的家庭来说,我的补偿金不断减少成为一个日益明显的问题. 它最终使我从司法部门退休,回到私人律师事务所. 我敢肯定,在乔治亚州的法官中,我的故事并不是独一无二的.”

López, who is now my law partner at DelCampo Grayson López in Atlanta, agreed with the comments of Justices Melton and Blackwell. “While having served the people of DeKalb as a judge for 11 years was one of the greatest honors of my professional life, 作为一名公务员的经济现实使我无法继续服务,” he said. “I have four children, and as my older children started nearing college age, 很明显,我不能继续履行我的司法工资义务了, 特别是当我知道我在私营部门可以赚得更多的时候. My story is not unique. 我认识的大多数离开的法官都不是因为他们想离开, 而是因为他们必须做对家庭经济有意义的事情.”

Adequate compensation for the leaders of Georgia’s judicial branch is sound and necessary public policy. “How are we to attract the best and brightest in our profession to serve in one of the most important roles in government if we don’t pay them what they need to take care of their families?” López asked. “To be a judge is to be a public servant. It is a calling and a sacrifice. 我很高兴为国家服务了11年,我的家人也很高兴在那段时间里做出这样的牺牲. 然而,如果我们想留住优秀的法官,这是一个必须解决的问题. 我不指望法官的薪酬会像大型律师事务所的私人合伙人那样高. But judges should at least make what a mid-level associate does.”

From a broad view, HB 947 establishes a maximum salary for Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals judges, the State-wide Business Court judge and Superior Court judges. Specific salaries in each annual budget would be set through the General Assembly’s regular appropriations process.

The maximum salary structure for judges at each court level would be calculated at a formula tied each year to the salary of U.S. 两年前乔治亚州北部地区的地方法院法官. The maximum annual salary for Supreme Court justices would be 100% of that number or currently $223,400; for Court of Appeals judges, 95% or $212,230; for the State-wide Business Court judge, 92% or $205,528; and for Superior Court judges, 90% or $201,060. The current local supplement system for Superior Court judges would be largely replaced by a “locality pay” addition of 10% of the judge’s salary, 使高等法院法官的总薪酬最高达221美元,166.

The proposal also provides for an “opt-in” requirement for current judges, who would have until Oct. 1 to opt in by filing a written notice with the Council of Superior Court Judges and the governing authority of each county in the circuit. If they don’t meet the deadline, they stay under the current system.

我赞扬众议院在2月6日以154-13的两党投票通过了HB 947. 15. 我希望参议院也能这样做,或者通过一个两党都能同意的版本. Brian Kemp can sign into law. The state of Georgia needs a compensation system that pays our judges competitively and consistently for the vital and increasingly difficult duties they fulfill in our system of justice.