Court budget plan, Senate bill call for big judicial pay hikes

February 1, 2018

Investigative Reports

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Gavel on Money

By RICK BRUNDRETT

South Carolina’s higher-level judges would receive pay hikes ranging from 20 to 33 percent under a state Judicial Department budget proposal and separate Senate bill.

A revised 2018-19 budget plan submitted on Jan. 18 by the Judicial Department, which initially requested 10 percent across-the-board raises, would increase salaries for judges and justices by 20 percent, according to state Department of Administration records.

Judicial pay raises aren’t included in Gov. Henry McMaster’s proposed state budget for the next fiscal year that starts July 1. His budget plan for the state’s court system is nearly identical to the Judicial Department’s current total annual budget of $79.3 million. The House and Senate are working on their own budget versions.

Under a bill (S. 910) by Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, annual salaries for Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals judges, circuit and family court judges would jump by about 33 percent, based on formulas in the bill.

Malloy is chairman of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that discussed his bill on Wednesday. The state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office has not yet released a fiscal-impact statement on the bill, which also would change how pay is calculated for master-in-equity and magistrate judges, solicitors and circuit public defenders, and state Workers’ Compensation commissioners.

Malloy, who joined the Senate in 2002, served more than three years on the state Judicial Merit Selection Commission, a six-legislator, 10-member panel that screens and nominates judges for election in the General Assembly. South Carolina and Virginia are the only states where their legislatures play primary roles in electing judges.

The S.C. House speaker appoints half of the screening commission’s 10 members; the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and Senate president pro tempore select three and two members, respectively. Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry and the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, is the screening commission’s current chairman; Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, is the vice-chairman.

In most cases, the Legislature can elect only judicial candidates nominated by the screening commission. The General Assembly is set to fill 23 judicial seats in a joint session scheduled for Wednesday.

The Judicial Department, headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty, wants an additional $6.3 million for salary hikes for judges as part of a proposed $31.6 million budget increase for next fiscal year, $20 million of which would be for “case management modernization,” according to its budget proposal.

“Judges and justices’ salaries are disproportionately low when compared to salaries of persons of comparable experience and responsibility in the legal profession,” the proposal states. “As head of the third branch of government with full responsibility of the State’s judiciary, the Chief Justice’s salary is $156,234, well below the average of $180,000 paid to several high-level executives within State Government.”

Under the Senate bill, Beatty’s pay would be the same as the salary of a U.S. District Court judge, which for this year, according to U.S. Court administration, is $208,000. That means Beatty would receive a nearly $52,000, or 33.1 percent, raise.

Other higher-level judges would receive pay hikes of 32.8 percent, based on formulas in the bill and the $208,000 annual salary for federal District Court judges. Here’s a salary breakdown, with the number of affected judges in parentheses:

  • Supreme Court associate justices (4): Current salary – $148,794. Proposed salary – $197,600;
  • Court of Appeals chief judge: Current salary – $147,306. Proposed salary – $195,624;
  • Court of Appeals associate judges (8): Current salary – $145,074. Proposed salary – $192,660;
  • Circuit Court judges (49): Current salary – $141,354. Proposed salary – $187,720;
  • Family Court judges (60): Current salary – $137,634. Proposed salary – $182,780.

In its budget proposal, the Judicial Department contends that giving a 20 percent raise to judges would provide a “greater benefit to the citizens of South Carolina by having more experienced lawyers seek judicial positions.” Following is a comparison of current and proposed salaries under that plan:

  • Supreme Court chief justice: Current salary – $156,234. Proposed salary – $187,480;
  • Supreme Court associate justices (4): Current salary – $148,794. Proposed salary – $178,552;
  • Court of Appeals chief judge: Current salary – $147,306. Proposed salary – $176,767;
  • Court of Appeals associate judges (8): Current salary – $145,074. Proposed salary – $174,088;
  • Circuit Court judges (49): Current salary – $141,354. Proposed salary – $169,624;
  • Family Court judges (60): Current salary – $137,634. Proposed salary – $165,160.

As a comparison, the annual average wage for all occupations in South Carolina is $41,530; for the nation, that figure is $49,630, according to May 2016 wage estimates by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve. Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • BIGPAW

    Judge Judy has skewed the pay scale.

  • Walter White

    The “plantation mentality” is alive and well in SC.

  • Philip Branton

    Ha……this timing with Judge Mullen having an entire lobby network by the throat is highly suspect.. !

    This is classic “frontrunning”…..

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1b7d089518b6d84a16eb5a355e1efc5659adffa0730498fcc615a24d070a8f6b.jpg

  • Philip Branton

    Dear Nancy Mace,

    I know you have not been on the job very long but the actions by this Democrat .. ( Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington,. ) really need your fingernails to ponder the pages his bill is written on.

    Do you agree that annual salaries for Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals judges, circuit and family court judges need to be increased by 33 percent, based on formulas in the bill.?

    Seriously, Nancy…..think of the optics of this Democrat submitting such a bill while Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin is a “client” of “Quinndom” and that Judge Mullen is listening to domino evidence at the present time from Richard Quinn?
    What type of undue leverage does this place on Judge Mullen and Mr Keel at SLED and Judicial observers.?

    Nancy……. I sure hope you know how to look at a boot to send a picture to every Democrat in the Statehouse via your phone.

    Nancy… .. Considering that I am the only person asking you to read this article and think, then what does this say about investigators and possible information provided to Solicitor David Pascoe while questioning Richard Quinn .? How well does a Democrat from Darlington know a concrete man from Florence……or Fairfield County..?

    Nancy….. ..a 3% raise, OK. …

    ….a 10% raise,…. take down “Quinndom” statewide, City, County, and Development board

    …….a 30% raise, take down “Quinndom” and “Peelerville” and “Leather Town” and “Grahamburg” and Uranium One pension “galaxy”…..AND…….CGI-Benghazi-Kyle House-BATS Exchange-Pension frontrunning…..

    Nancy…….. If you really are serious about serving the people of this state, make sure you send Rick Brundrett a picture of your boot you send. You do understand signals intelligience.

    I am cheering for you …..

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f3be526b1f7f4578aaed1da08ec7ee3c51b70009c9c78258165f43e7c407fa46.jpg

  • Lean and Mean

    This is insane!

    Every time our taxes go up, they want to give out BIG pay raises.

    Time to start exposing every single criminal offense they commit, even if its speeding, tossing trash out of their cars, what ever!