Does Kansas value justice? If so, it needs to adequately fund its court system.
And as a recent study by the National Center for State Courts found, that’s not happening.
Among the findings:
▪ District court judges have not received a pay raise in nine years. What’s more, their pay is the second lowest in the nation (only New Mexico is lower).
▪ Magistrate judges would need a 22 percent pay raise to be at the market rate.
▪ Other court employees, such as clerks and court reporters, are paid between 4.6 percent and 22.2 percent below market. More than a quarter of these positions have starting pay below the federal poverty level for a family of four, and nearly a third of employees work additional jobs to make ends meet.
The low pay makes it difficult to keep and replace employees, James Fleetwood, chief judge of the Sedgwick County District Court, told the Eagle editorial board.
It also threatens the operations of courts and is a potential public safety risk – such as when there aren’t enough probation officers or when it becomes difficult to obtain a protection-from-abuse order.
The judicial branch is seeking a $20 million budget increase to raise the salary of district court judges to the average of neighboring states and to raise the pay of magistrate judges and other court employees to their market levels.
This could be difficult to afford, given the state is already facing a huge budget shortfall and needs to increase funding for K-12 public education.
But as Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss told the Eagle editorial board, “It is way past time for this to happen.”