The State of the Kansas Judiciary remains underpaid, according to the speech given by Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss on Wednesday afternoon at the Statehouse.
“Even after last year’s two and a half percent increase, over 21 percent is still needed to raise district magistrate judge salaries to market level,” said Nuss. “More than one-fourth of our magistrate judges who responded to the survey have indicated that they are seeking employment outside the judicial branch. The number one reason given, low compensation.”
Judges that deal with criminal cases aren’t doing much better.
“It’s a matter of public record, however, that, even after last year’s increase, today, Kansas district judges, the trial judges in your communities, still rank next to last in the nation for what they get paid,” Nuss said. “Kansas is ahead only of New Mexico.”
Nuss sees the low pay of judicial workers as a danger to the current structure of the judiciary, as statute currently requires at least one judge in every county and there is more than a chance that at some point in the future some rural counties may have no judicial staff other than the judge.
“How many judges will be willing to perform all those court functions in those counties, when today many of our magistrate judges already want to leave their existing workloads for higher paying jobs?” asked Nuss. “In light of this reality, an even more important question may arise, do you want to continue to keep at least one judge in each of our 105 counties if we are unable to hire any suitable staff to support them? That’s a policy question for this Legislature to consider. I take no position on it today.”
The Associated Press reported that Governor Brownback’s budget proposal released last week did not include nearly $20 million in additional funds for the judiciary requested for fiscal year 2019.