Chief justice says N.C. judge salaries low, fears exodus

By: - August 8, 2005 5:39 am

Wilmington StarNews Online

Associated Press


GREENSBORO – North Carolina’s most experienced judges could begin abandoning their jobs for more lucrative work thanks to salaries that are "alarmingly" lower than those of lawyers, the state’s leading jurist said.

The result could be a "mediocre" judiciary unless steps are made to improve judicial pay, State Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. said.

"The judges are getting very impatient about it," Chief Justice Lake told the News & Record of Greensboro. "We’re going to begin losing a lot of good judges, in my opinion."

Chief Justice Lake cited a recent independent report that compared judges’ salaries with those of city, county and university counsels across the state and with judges in other southeastern states.

It showed that his own salary of $121,391 is slightly more than half the $229,399 median salary for an attorney with 10 years’ experience in a medium-size law firm. Eight Greensboro city employees make more than Chief Justice Lake, including a deputy city attorney, the report cited as a comparison.

Chief Justice Lake and the State Judicial Council, an advisory body, have asked the General Assembly to boost judicial salaries in this budget year as recommended by the report. But he said he knows it won’t happen.

"I’m just trying to get enough money to get the doors of our courthouses open," he said.

A 2004 study of the salaries of high-level state government positions, requested by state lawmakers, raised concern that judicial salaries were significantly below those of comparable attorney jobs in the state.

The state Administrative Office of the Courts then commissioned a more in-depth analysis, which was given in April to the State Judicial Council.

That report, conducted by independent expert Fox Lawson and Associates, recommended that the chief justice’s salary be raised to $155,000, which would bring Chief Justice Lake’s pay closer to the average salary for law school deans at the state’s two public universities.

It would also move Chief Justice Lake’s salary from the third lowest-paid chief justice in a 12-state region to the top, on par with the chief justice in Florida.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066