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Mississippi Judges To Ask Legislature for Better Pay

By Daniel Cherry | Published 24 Jan 2012 06:56pm | comments

Judges in Mississippi are the lowest paid in the nation. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how advocates are asking legislators to give the judiciary a raise.

On average, judges in Mississippi make about 104 thousand a year...that's the lowest in the country and about 30 percent lower than the southeastern average. Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. says there has been too much turnover among judges in recent years.

"The judges have years of experience and they're making decisions on peoples' lives and critical, million-dollar decisions, and that's taxing on a person too. To get people to do it you need to pay them adequately. I'm not saying pay them great, but pay them adequately. They're not being paid adequately now."

Advocates say a bill that would increase pay for judges will be introduced in the legislature next week. A qualified attorney can currently make much more in private practice than on the bench. That's why former Ninth District Circuit Judge Frank Vollor said he had to retire and return to practicing law after finding himself in deep debt for sending his children to college.

"They want someone with experience, someone recognized by their peers as the best and brightest and, unfortunately, we're not able to do that with the pay and that has reflected with the high turnover we have had with trial judges."

A similar bill failed to get enough votes in the legislature last session. Republican Representative Alex Monsour voted no on the bill last time. He says the state constitution prohibits raising judges' pay during their term in office.

"It came up on the floor and I think the quote was, 'We can get around it.' We're not going to sit in those seats and swear to uphold the constitution and just get around it. We're not going to do that. We need to address that, look at the bill, see where it comes out, and then we'll go forward with it."

Monsour says if the bill is written in a way to address the constitutional concerns, it's likely to gain more support from legislators.

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