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6

Senate Committee to Study Judicial Pay, Voting

By Angela Morris, Texas Lawyer

L

t. Gov. Dan Patrick recently announced that he has tasked a Senate committee with studying

judicial pay raises and eliminating straight-party voting for judges, among other things.

Senate committees will study a slew of interim charges in 2016 and write reports or suggest

bills for the Texas Legislature to consider in 2017. One of Patrick’s charges for the Senate State

Affairs Committee, which deals with civil justice and court-related bills, is to “examine the need

to adjust Texas judicial salaries to attract, maintain and support a qualified judiciary.”

No one from Patrick’s press office returned a call seeking comment before deadline.

The legislature in 2007 created the Judicial Compensation Commission to study judge salaries and

recommend raises. In 2013, the commission recommended a 21 percent raise. In the first judicial raise

since 2005, lawmakers approved 12 percent. But an effort to increase judges’ salaries again this year failed.

Pat Mizell, a member of the Judicial Compensation Commission, said it’s positive to

see lawmakers preparing to

discuss judicial pay. He said

he hopes they realize that they

need to bump the salaries to

get Texas judges’ pay in line

with that of other states.

“It’s a quality of the judiciary

issue. Judges will never make

what private lawyers make,

but the salary can’t be so low

that people simply won’t take

the job because they can’t

make a basic living out of it.

We think that if the salaries are

fairly adjusted upward, it will

attract high-quality people to

the job,” said Mizell, a partner

in Vinson & Elkins in Houston

and the 1995-2002 judge of

Harris County’s 129th District

Court.

Patrick also asked the State

Affairs Committee to study

and recommend whether Texas should “delink legislators’ standard service retirement annuities from district

judge salaries.”

Mizell explained that having lawmakers’ retirement linked to judges’ salaries creates a political problem.

A lawmaker might be accused of voting to raise his own retirement benefits whenever he votes to increase

judicial pay, explained Mizell.

Under Patrick’s charge, the State Affairs Committee will also look at the impact of eliminating straight-party

voting for judicial candidates.

Under Patrick’s

charge, the State

Affairs Committee

will also look

at the impact

of eliminating

straight-party

voting for judicial

candidates.