Texas Judges Could be Getting $30,000 Raise
By: Ryan Autullo
Many Texas judges are in line for pay increases — some by more than $30,000 annually — after state lawmakers passed a bill that rewards longevity on the bench.
House Bill 2384, which is awaiting final approval from Gov. Greg Abbott, would raise the pay for district, county and appellate judges after their fourth year on the bench. The pay bump, proponents say, is necessary to retain good jurists and attract quality candidates to open benches.
The bill by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, removes a sticky provision tying legislators’ pensions to the base pay for district judges. Leery of the optics of passing a law from which they would personally benefit, lawmakers have long resisted calls to boost judges’ pay and have not done so in the eight years since it was set at $140,000 a year.
Instead, Leach’s bill, which passed easily in the House and Senate, establishes three longevity triggers. The first, after a judge has completed four years on the bench, increases the base pay by 10%. Another 10% bump registers after eight years.
Judges with 12 years of service max out with an additional 5% increase — $36,400 above the base salary.
“The judicial pay raise is significant because it will certainly help keep experienced judges working hard for our citizens,” Travis County state District Judge Lora Livingston said last week. “We have lost a number of outstanding jurists to economic pressures, and this increase will help us retain excellent judges without unreasonable economic hardship. Reasonable compensation for judges will also help us attract the most highly qualified candidates to the bench.”
Livingston, who has been on the bench for 20 years, is among five longtime Travis County District Court judges who qualify for all of the longevity clauses and could make $176,400 annually from the state — plus additional compensation from the county. Currently, the county contributes $18,000 annually to a judge’s salary. If the county approves that number again in next year’s budget, Livingston and state District Judges Scott Jenkins, Darlene Byrne and Julie Kocurek would rake in $194,400 annually — 19% more than their current pay.
State District Judge Brenda Kennedy would receive the same compensation plus an additional $5,000 for her duties as administrative judge over criminal courts.
Four County Court-at-Law judges would also qualify for the three longevity pay bumps but would earn less than their District Court peers because of a rule stating that they cannot make more than $1,000 less than District Court judges.
Two of them — Elisabeth Earle and Mike Denton — have expressed interest in resigning from the bench and running for county attorney next year. It’s unclear whether a significant pay raise could give them second thoughts.
Earle and Denton make more than $161,340 a year and would get a nice jump as the successor to current County Attorney David Escamilla, who makes $180,944. But they could be getting an even bigger jump by staying on the bench, which would net them a $32,000-plus increase.
Denton simply said, “I’m going to do what I think is best.”
Earle said she has not made a decision but will do so soon.