North Dakota judges, Supreme Court justices seek salary increases
The increases sought under House Bill 1002 would put the officials near the middle of the pack when compared to other states, panel says
BISMARCK — North Dakota's judges and Supreme Court justices are asking the state Legislature for salary increases they say are overdue.
The increases sought over two years — 20% in July 2023, 15% in July 2024 — under House Bill 1002 would put the officials near the middle of the pack when compared to other states, a panel of representatives told the Bismarck Tribune editorial board Tuesday, Jan. 31. The judges and justices now rank 40th and 41st in the nation, respectively, according to the National Center for State Courts.
Judicial officers in recent years have opted not to push for raises in light of state budget cuts or dips in the farm economy, said Northeast District Judge Barbara Whelan.
“We have been quietly kind of going along, and that has resulted in us falling so far behind,” Whelan said.
Judges render decisions that affect people’s lives, and see “some of the most horrible activity and behavior by human beings that you can possibly see,” said South Central District Judge David Reich, secretary/treasurer of the North Dakota Judges Association. Judges socially isolate themselves to remain impartial, and can at times face threats after a decision, Reich said.
“There are trade-offs when you become a judge I think a lot of other state employees and other individuals don’t think about and don’t have to deal with,” he said.
Judges who are elected or appointed get the same salary as the most senior judge, said Supreme Court Justice Daniel Crothers.
“There’s no incremental increases as your experience grows,” he said, adding that taking away that “career ladder” makes attracting justices and judges from the private sector more difficult.
The state has good judges, Crothers said, but lawyers who have worked in private practice can bring a more diversified background and in turn share that with other judges. The number of applicants for open judge and justice spots has dwindled, and most are former public defenders or prosecutors, the justice said.
Crothers went to the high court in 2005. It took him until 2018 to make the same amount he made in private practice in 2003, not adjusted for inflation.
“We didn’t come to the court for money,” Crothers said, “but it becomes a point of financial irresponsibility for someone to become a judge at some point.”
District judge salaries now at $155,219 annually would go to $214,202 in July 2024, according to the panel of judicial representatives. Presiding judges now at $159,629 would move to $220,288. Supreme Court justices are paid $169,162 and would increase to $233,444. The chief justice would move from $173,946 to $240,045. The cost increase to the state budget would be about $6.5 million.