A bill to change the pay structure for judges around the state and give them a raise has been approved by the Legislature.
Senate Bill 292 was amended in the House last week to also change the compensation schedule of district attorneys and the state attorney general. The Senate agreed in a 30-0 vote on Tuesday. The bill now goes to the governor.
Current law says circuit judges' salaries are set by statute, and district and appellate judges and supreme court justices' salaries are based on circuit judges’ pay. Senate Bill 292 sets separate initial salaries for the various judges, as well as district attorneys and the attorney general, and provides for 7.5% raises each term.
“What we’re trying to get some clarification on is who is getting paid what and why,” said bill sponsor Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range.
Circuit judges' salaries would start at $140,000; district judges would start at $139,000. Appellate court judges' initial salaries would be $174,000. The chief justice of the state would earn $176,000 and associate justices would get $175,000.
A fiscal note on Albritton’s original bill said changes to judicial pay would cost the state $5.3 million next year.
The bill was approved 94-4 in the House last week. Rep. Phillip Pettus was among the four Republicans voting against it.
He said that for some judges, the increase equals a 20% pay hike.
“We give 2% to state employees, we give 2% to teachers,” he said about cost of living increases approved in this session. “I think 20% is way too much for one set and not others. I’m not saying they don’t deserve it, but judges get raises every year.”
Matt McDonald, a board member of the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee, said the increase is overdue.
“The importance of the rule of law to American democracy cannot be overstated and upholding the rule of law is dependent on retaining highly qualified judges with integrity and a strong work ethic,” McDonald said. “Alabama is lucky to have judges who fit this description.”
The bill also requires all judges to be licensed attorneys.
The House-amended bill says starting in October, new district attorneys will earn $140,000 and will receive 7.5% increases each new term.
The bill also sets the state attorney general’s salary to that of the chief justice of Alabama, $176,000. The attorney general currently earns about $168,000 per year.
Barry Matson, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, said the bill uncouples DAs' pay from that of judges, which could fluctuate.
“We wanted a structure where our DAs could work toward a higher pay but have a pay where an entry level DA would come in at a rate that was commensurate with that experience as a prosecutor and then work their way up,” Matson said.
He said the change represents a pay cut for new DAs, but regular increases of 7.5% each term would mean increases long term.
“There is a potential for higher pay, but they would have to put in the years to get it,” Matson said.