The independent citizens commission that will soon set pay raises for state elected officials and judges heard a plea for a pay raise today from a former Republican senator, Circuit Judge Shawn Womack.
It is to laugh. He hinted there’s an equal protection lawsuit to be filed if Arkansas judges don’t get a pay raise. This from a Republican who thinks equal protection under the law doesn’t apply to gay people. Only white male judges who need more money get equal protection. Womack currently makes more than $140,000 a year as a judge in Mountain Home, where the living is cheap (that’s why so many people from Illinois move there) and the work is easy (trust me, my wife is a retired judge, who I happen to think worked hard in a county with a heavier caseload, but you may feel free to judge her however you wish.)
A plug here for Gavin Lesnick. He’s the nearly one-man show for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s online edition, which is generally free, though its full edition is not. I hurt my own effort to get paying customers by noting his energy and reach, such as by covering a commission meeting today that I couldn’t reach.
Thanks to Lesnick, I know of Womack’s bodacious claim that Arkansas could be at risk of a lawsuit if it doesn’t raise judges’ pay post haste. First, I’m aware of no precedent in which the U.S. Supreme Court looks at salary variances between the states on vocations as a legal issue. But let’s got to Womack’s nonsense
Womack told the members that general jurisdiction judicial salaries increased 15 percent from 2004 to 2013, compared with jumps of 43 percent in Tennessee, 36 percent in Texas, 35 percent in Louisiana, 30 percent in Oklahoma and 18 percent in Missouri.
“Of all of our surrounding states, only Mississippi has moved less than Arkansas,” he said. “We’re pretty quickly losing ground.”
Judge pay currently ranges from $140,372 made by circuit judges to $161,601 paid annually to the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
Womack also told the seven-member panel about a federal lawsuit that recently resulted in a 14 percent salary increase for federal judges. The plaintiffs in that case argued successfully that a lack of cost-of-living increases violated a constitutional provision that a judge’s salary cannot be diminished.
First, the statute Womack cited on federal judges doesn’t apply to state judges. Second, he is full of BLEEP. Percentages aren’t numbers. When you make more, the percentage of your raise is smaller. Is this how stupid Womack thinks all Arkansans are? I’m afraid so, judging by recent election results.
Funny how percentages don’t exactly tell the story. I’ve previously shown here and also supplied to the pay commission a comprehensive survey of state court pay by the National Center for State Courts. Here are the numbers. Arkansas ranked 28th among the states for salaries at Womack’s level, and that was before they got a raise from $138,000 to over $140,000. They ranked ninth in the country according to this group’s survey when you took cost of living into account. Falling behind? My behind.
Remember: Arkansas ranks 48th in the country in per capita income, about 41st or so when you consider cost of living. Our current judicial pay is in the middle of the U.S. and a small government Republican circuit judge in retiree-friendly Mountain Home thinks he has a potential lawsuit because we are not paying him enough?
Makes you wonder about the qualification of our judges, doesn’t it?
I write this with heavy heart. My retired judge wife will make no friends at judicial conference for my rant. But these people are paid enough. They have been unfairly cut out of some recent state employee pay raises it’s fair to say.
But if you really believe that more money will get better judges than goobers like Shawn Womack give them 5 percent, to more than $148,000 for him. You think the average lawyer makes that much? By the way: $7,000 is a $3.33/hr. increase for a poor sucker flipping burgers for $7.50 an hour, in case you might be wondering. And they work every single minute of every shift. I challenge you to get Shawn Womack on the phone. That number: 870-424-5500.