Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson delivered his bi-annual State of the Judiciary address before a joint session of both houses of the Legislature today. While Jefferson said the state of the judiciary in Texas is strong, he did outline some challenges the state must face in order to improve the third branch of government. Foremost among these challenges is a pay raise for judges in the states appellate, district and high courts. Jefferson said that Texas ranks 34th in the nation in judicial salaries, which makes it hard to recruit good lawyers to the bench and even harder to keep them there. In many cases, inexperienced associate lawyers in urban areas make more than highly experienced judges.
This disparity in pay means that many judges eventually leave their posts to return to a more lucrative private practice. Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan agrees with Jefferson's assessment. "In Texas we have lagged behind the rest of the country in regard to salaries that will be sufficient to compensate lawyers who have successful practices who would like to move over and become justices," said Duncan.
To correct this disparity, Duncan has filed Senate Bill 368, which would increase judges' salaries. A district court judge in Texas makes $101,000 per year. Under SB 368, that judge would make $125,000 yearly. The bill would also raise salaries for appellate court judges by $28,000 and high court judges by $37,000. While this will not put Texas at the top of the list of states as far as judicial compensation goes, he says it will allow the state to recruit and retain more of the experienced, knowledgeable lawyers as judges. If we do not pass some sort of judicial pay raise, Duncan warns, the state risks lowering the quality of the judiciary. "If this legislation isn't passed, I think what we'll see is a brain drain from the bench," said Duncan. "We'll have highly qualified people who would like to serve, but simply can't afford to."
Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo honored members of the Texas Immunization Partners with a resolution today. Zaffirini has been a proponent of child immunization throughout her Senate career. She supports organizations that seek to improve immunization rates in Texas, especially on the border, where many children become afflicted by diseases for which effective vaccines exist. The Texas Immunization Partners is one such organization, which promotes education about the dangers of childhood disease and the effectiveness and necessity of age-appropriate vaccinations.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, February 24th, at 10:00 A.M.