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April 15, 2014
Senate takes up court pay inequities

By Megan E. Davis
Associate Editor

The Senate’s proposed budget addresses the state court system’s top priority — disparity in staff pay.

“The Senate acknowledged that we have a legitimate and compelling case concerning inequities that exist in terms of employee pay,” said State Courts Administrator Lisa Goodner. “We’re very pleased about that and hope that during conference the House will also agree to fund the pay issue for our employees.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee asked Goodner to prepare and submit a plan for tackling the pay issue, specifying which positions need salary increases and how much of a bump each position would need.

In a comprehensive study of employee pay across the three branches of state government, the court system found the average salary of its employees was 12.59 percent lower than other government employees.

As a result, the system has lost key managers and other high performers in recent years who possessed a broad knowledge of critical judicial operations, according to a report issued by OSCA.

The court system has been unable to offer salaries commensurate with experience and award merit among staff.

In some cases, the courts have been forced to advertise open positions repeatedly in order to find candidates willing to accept the minimum salary offered.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also added two amendments to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice’s budget proposal for the courts.

One provides $100,000 for problem- solving courts education and training.

“This was something we requested,” Goodner said. “It’s one-time funding to have our judges and court staff participate in a training event aimed toward these court dockets that deal with special problems, like mental health issues and substance abuse.”

A second amendment proposes to change the process by which the courts budget education programs. The courts would be required to show any programs are necessary for performing official duties.

“We’re not sure what the concern is regarding court education,” Goodner said. “We’re in discussions with them about that.”

The House approved a budget with no changes to the Justice Appropriations Committee’s proposal for the courts.

[Revised: 07-14-2014]