As the clock ticks toward the start of the 2013 legislative session, money is on the minds of judicial leaders.
Members of the Texas Judicial Council, the policy making body for the Texas judiciary, on Nov. 9 unanimously passed resolutions asking the Legislature to fund the courts adequately, pay judges more and require litigants who challenge Texas laws to notify the Texas Attorney General.
In one resolution, the council asked the Legislature to fund civil legal services for the poor, court security and technology, personnel training, the creation of new judgeships, and more. The resolution says, "a strong judiciary … is critical to attracting business growth," and "effective and efficient courts save taxpayers money." Courts struggle to fulfill their roles "during this economic downturn due to budget cuts," says the resolution.
"We've basically been doing more with less," David Slayton, executive director of the Texas Judicial Council, said at the meeting.
The judicial council also approved a resolution to increase judges' salaries, per a recommendation by the Judicial Compensation Commission. Texas judges haven't gotten a pay raise since 2005, notes the resolution, and "the salary of Texas' judges are now below compensation levels from 1991 when one factors in the consumer price index increase."
Slayton told judicial council members about a recent article that said $160,000 is the median salary for new associates at law firms — more than the salary of any Texas judge.
"We were depressed enough," Victoria County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Laura Weiser replied jokingly.
Another resolution recommends the Legislature amend Government Code Sec. 402.010, which requires a court to notify the Texas Attorney General when a litigant files a legal action "challenging the constitutionality of a Texas statute." The resolution says, "it is difficult for clerks to comply," and it recommends the Legislature instead require litigants to notify the AG.
Among its 10 legislative resolutions, the judicial council also resolved to ask lawmakers to amend a statute about vexatious litigants, simplify the structure of criminal court costs and increase funding for indigent defense.
-- Angela Morris