Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Florida Judges' Salaries Increase despite Legislators' Criticisms

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Florida Judges' Salaries Increase despite Legislators' Criticisms

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- Legislators spent most of the last session bashing the courts, then gave judges some of the biggest salary increases contained in the $50.9 billion budget.

County judges' salaries went up a stunning 12.5 percent. Circuit judges got a 11 percent raise, and District Court of Appeal judges got a 6.1 percent increase. Supreme Court justices, who rejected the recent legislation to speed up death penalty appeals, got the smallest raise at 3.4 percent.

But even that raise was still higher than the 2.5 percent that went to most state employees.

The Supreme Court justices will make $150,000 starting in October, while appeals judges will make $138,500, circuit judges $130,000 and county judges $117,000.

The Legislature did refuse to approve the 43 new trial court judges sought by the Supreme Court, but House Appropriations Chairman Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, said that was not done to punish the justices.

Pruitt said he was told by a circuit judge that the judges would prefer a salary increase to a reduction in their workload.

"There was no sinister plot," he said.

Some Democrats are not so sure.

Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, who is the incoming House Democratic leader, said she thought House leaders were sending a message to the Supreme Court by ignoring its request for more judges.

"I think there was a genuine contempt for the courts by the leadership of the House," Frankel said.

Rep. Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine, said he was amazed at the Legislature's decision not to furnish the judges.

"Let's hope that this was not a punitive issue, as it appears," Wiles said.

Frankel and Wiles said they felt good salaries for judges were important, but they should not serve as a substitute for adequate staffing.

"It doesn't have to be either or," Frankel said.

House Speaker John Thrasher, R-Orange Park, said circuit judges wanted to be on a par with state attorneys and public defenders, and he thought they had a good argument.

Under the new salary schedule, the judges climb to within $3,840 of the state attorneys and will make $1,515 more than public defenders.

"They and county judges lobbied strongly that in lieu of new judges that we concentrate on raising salaries," Thrasher said.

Thrasher said he thought the new salaries established a good relationship between judicial salaries, and the Legislature should try to keep the same percentage differences in the future.

Circuit Judge Donald R. Moran Jr. of Jacksonville, chief judge of the 4th Judicial Circuit, said he welcomed the raises and understood why the Legislature was reluctant to pay for new judges.

Moran said the Legislature apparently had concerns about a new formula for computing judicial workload and wanted further study before approving a substantial increase in judges. …

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