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Bar Buzz: Trial judges want 5 percent per year raise

Minnesota’s District Court judges will seek a 5 percent per year pay raise in July 2019 and again in July 2020, lawmakers learned Wednesday.

Anoka County District Court Judge Jonathan Jasper spoke to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division on Jan. 23. He was there representing the Minnesota District Judges Association’s Pension and Benefits Committee.

While the presentation did not include a formal budget request, Jasper told lawmakers to expect his association to ask for the 5 percent per year pay hike later in the legislative session.

He said the raise would compensate for the Legislature’s 2016 decision to fund only a 2.5 percent per year pay raise over the last biennium. Both the District Judges Association and the state Judicial Council that year asked for a 3.5 percent per year judges’ raise over that biennium, Jasper said.

The 5 percent request is in line with the recommendations in an August 2018 report from St. Catherine University economists Elizabeth Kula and Kristine L. West. That report was commissioned by Jasper’s association.

In it, the economists said judges’ salaries that do no more than keep up with inflation may not be “sufficient to attract and retain a sufficient pool of judicial talent.”

Speaking to lawmakers Wednesday, Jasper sounded a similar note. “Basically what we are trying to do is maintain the quality of the bench in Minnesota,” he said.

“That is what is necessary to get us at parity, according to the economists,” he added.

In an interview Thursday, Jasper said that both his association and the state Judicial Council likely will make separate requests to increase judges’ pay. But his association’s request probably will differ from that of the council, which will look to fund the entire judicial branch, not just judges.

Jasper said that by the end of the last biennium, the previous 2.5 percent per year raise had turned into a small pay cut after inflation. The proposed pay raise would rectify that and make salaries more attractive to people who otherwise have lucrative private-sector opportunities, he said.

“What we are trying to do is get competitive so that we can continue to have a really strong judiciary and recruit good people to be judges,” he said.

If lawmakers grant the two-year, 5 percent pay hike, trial judges who today earn $157,179 per year would be pulling in $173,290 starting in July 2020.

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