Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss addressed a joint session of the Kansas Legislature Wednesday afternoon on the State of the Kansas Judiciary.
Unfortunately, the state of the judiciary is underpaid, according to studies cited by Nuss in his remarks and the judiciary is losing experienced judges because of it.
“Besides retirement, these losses are primarily because of low compensation,” said Nuss. “For the same reason, we have often had trouble finding suitable replacements in many courthouses.”
Kansas is among the lowest paying states for judges.
“According to the National Center for State Courts, Kansas district judges, the trial judges in your communities, rank next to last in the nation for what they get paid and only 45th in the nation when adjusted for cost of living,” said Nuss.
Since that group does not keep statistics on court employees and magistrate judges, the state used grant money to study the pay of those judicial employees.
“A little over 22 percent is needed to raise district magistrate judges salaries up to market level,” said Nuss. “We learned that more than one-fourth of our magistrate judges who responded to the survey indicated they are seeking employment outside the judicial branch. The number one reason given was compensation.”
Employee pay news was even more dire.
“More than one-fourth of our employee positions have starting salaries below the federal poverty level for a family of four,” said Nuss. “We also learned that every single judicial branch job classification is below market rate, some by as much as 22 percent. We learned that approximately 700 of our 1600 employees are paid about 18 percent below market.”
Nearly one-third of judicial employees need to work jobs outside of the judicial branch to make ends meet. That’s 24 percent higher than the rest of the state. Other than a 2014 cost of living increase, no other adjustment to compensation has been made since 2008.