A new analysis of pay scales for state judges at all levels finds compensation relatively flat due to continued flat state revenues. Oklahoma judges at various levels of the system are ranked in the lower half among the states. However, when adjusted for cost of living, the compensation of state trial judges in the Sooner State is 20th in the nation, the survey found.
According to the “Survey of Judicial Salaries,” at $137,655 a year, members of the Oklahoma state Supreme Court ranked 35th in average pay. Members of the state’s appellate courts, with salaries at $130,410, were in 33rd place.
As for Oklahoma’s general jurisdiction trial courts, judges were in 2010 paid $124,373, 38th in the nation. However, when adjusted for living costs, trial judges in the state system were in 20th place.
The National Center for State Courts conducted the annual analysis, providing useful data concerning state-level pay in courts of last resort (COLRs) – Supreme Courts and other “last stops” – intermediate appellate courts, general jurisdiction trial courts and court administrators.
Among the states touching Oklahoma (moving counter-clockwise on the map), in Arkansas pay for trial judges was 23rd nationwide, and eighth when adjusted for inflation. Appellate judges in the Land of Opportunity came in at 20th, while the highest court judges were 30th among the states. Missouri’s trial judges were in 41st among the states, but 25th after the cost of living adjustment. The Show Me State’s appellate judges were at 35th, High Court judges were in 38th.
Sunflower State (Kansas) trial judges were 42nd among the states, but 26th when adjusted for cost of living; appellate judges were 32nd and the Supreme Court members were in 39th place. Colorado’s judges were 33rd in pay, and 31st after the adjustment in this survey. Appellate judges in the Rocky Mountain State were 28th, and High Court jurists were in 34th.
In New Mexico, trial court jurists were in 48th place among the 50 states and the District of Columbia; a ranking that improved to 41st after the cost of living adjustment.
In the Lone Star State, trial judges were ranked 26th among the states; but 11th after the cost-of-living was figured. Both appellate judges and Supreme Court judges in Texas were 24th among the states.
For cost-of-living analysis, the National Center for State Courts used assumptions of the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER, formerly known as ACCRA). That index draws from 400 reporting jurisdictions, and average costs of goods/services for four running fiscal quarters. More information is available at www.c2er.org and www.accra.org.
The Great Recession has impacted the rate of increases in judicial compensation. From 2003-07, the average annual increase in state judicial pay (including court administrators) was 3.24 percent. In 2008-09, increases were 1.67 percent, on average. In the most recent year for which complete data was available, 2010, increases amounted to an average of 0.63 percent.
For state High Court judges across America, the mean annual salary was $151,462 in 2010. The median was $146,917. The range was from $112,530 to $218,237.
Among intermediate appellate court judges, the national mean was $146,508, while the median salary was $140,732. The range of compensation across the U.S. went from a low of $105,050 to a high of $204,599.
As for general jurisdiction trial courts, the mean was $136,268; and $131,969 when adjusted for cost of living. The median pay was $132,500, and $131,363 when adjusted for inflation. The range in unadjusted dollars was from $104,170 to $178,835. Adjusted for cost living, the range was from a low of $82,134 to $186,011.
When adjusted for cost of living, the five states with the best pay for trial court judges were, in descending order from first, Illinois, Tennessee, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
The five states with the lowest pay for trial court judges, adjusted for cost of living, were (from 51st up) Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, Montana and Massachusetts.
The survey used January 1 of each year as a cut-off date for analyzing average salaries as a means to avoid confusion due to widely different dates for pay increases or other compensation adjustments in the various states.
The Survey of Judicial Salaries, on track for official release this week, can be studied on the Judicial website. NCSC has conducted the annual survey for the past 30 years.