North Dakota

North Dakota judges, Supreme Court justices seek salary increases – InForum

BISMARCK — North Dakota and Supreme Court justices are asking the state Legislature for salary increases they believe are overdue.

The two-year target increases — 20% in July 2023, 15% in July 2024 — under House Bill 1002 would put officials in the middle of the pack compared to other states, a panel of representatives from the Bismarck Tribune editorial board said Tuesday with , January 31. The judges and judges now rank 40th and 41st in the nation, respectively, according to the National Center for State Courts.

Justice officials have chosen in recent years not to push for pay increases in the face of federal budget cuts or slumps in the agricultural economy, Northeast District Judge Barbara Whelan said.

“We went along quietly, and that’s what caused us to fall so far behind,” Whelan said.

Judges make decisions that affect people’s lives and see “some of the most terrifying human activity and behavior that you can ever see,” said South Central District Judge David Reich, secretary-treasurer of the North Dakota Judges Association. Judges socially isolate to remain impartial and can sometimes face threats after a decision, Reich said.

“There are tradeoffs when you become a judge, I think a lot of other government officials and other individuals don’t think about it and don’t have to deal with it,” he said.

Justices who are elected or appointed are paid the same salary as the senior justice, said Supreme Court Justice Daniel Crothers.

Daniel Crothers.jpg

Daniel Crothers, Justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court


“There are no incremental increases as your experience grows,” he said, adding that removing that “career ladder” makes it harder to attract judges and judges from the private sector.

The state has good judges, Crothers said, but attorneys who have worked in private practice can bring a broader background and in turn share that with other judges. The number of applicants for vacant judge and judiciary positions has declined, and most are former public defenders or prosecutors, the judiciary said.

Crothers went to the Supreme Court in 2005. It took him until 2018 to earn the same amount he earned in private practice in 2003, not adjusted for inflation.

“We didn’t go to court over money,” Crothers said, “but it becomes a point of financial irresponsibility when someone eventually becomes a judge.”

District judge salaries, currently $155,219 per year, would increase to $214,202 in July 2024, according to the panel of justice representatives. The Presiding Judges, now at $159,629, would rise to $220,288. Supreme Court justices will receive $169,162 and would rise to $233,444. The Chief Justice would go from $173,946 to $240,045. The cost increase to the state budget would be about $6.5 million.

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