JACKSON — The Mississippi Senate yesterday gave final approval to a bill that would increase the salaries of judges and prosecutors.
The measure would increase the salaries incrementally over four years. Money for the judges’ raises would come from increasing filing fees in civil and appellate courts. Raises for district attorneys and assistant district attorneys would come from fee increases for various felonies and misdemeanors, including speeding and littering.
Prosecutors and Supreme Court justices watched as the Senate voted.
Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, who presented the bill, said the legislation would attract more qualified attorneys to become judges and district attorneys without raising taxes. Mississippi’s judges are currently the lowest-paid in the nation, according to the National Center for State Courts.
“This will attract judges who have opted not to run or retired because of the low salaries,” Hopson said.
The bill also provides for a system by which the State Personnel Board would regularly re-evaluate the salaries of Mississippi judges and district attorneys. The board would make recommendations to the legislature for new compensation based on how those salaries compare to other states, rates of inflation, and the general economic climate.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller Jr. said the system would prevent the court from having to involve itself so much in the legislative process and allow it to focus on judicial duties.
“This will help create more judiciary independence by separating the legislature and the judiciary on this issue,” Waller said. Under the bill, Waller’s own salary would increase to $159,000 by 2016.
County court judges, whose salaries vary, would see a supplement of more than $31,000 by 2016.
District Attorney Tony Lawrence, president of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association, said he was “elated” that the bill had passed the Senate. Full-time district attorneys’ salaries would increase to $125,900 by 2016.
“We’re glad members of the House and Senate recognize the serious need for improved legal salaries as a public safety issue,” Lawrence said. “We need to get good people in office and keep them there.”
Civil court filing fees would increase by $40 under the bill, and the fee for the State Prosecutor Compensation Fund collected from those convicted of a misdemeanor or felony would increase to $10. The general docket fee for filing an appeal would increase by $100.
The bill goes to Gov. Phil Bryant, unless any senator holds it for more debate.