Wales and Yang on Judicial Pay
Two candidates for circuit court consider: should they be paid more?
Scott Wales and Kashoua “Kristy” Yang are competing for the Branch 47 judicial seat now held by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert. This is the only contested Milwaukee County judicial race this year. Wales and Yang agreed to answer a series of questions from WJI to better inform voters about issues in the race.
The answers were edited for length (maximum 400 words).
The question: Should circuit court judges get paid more? Why or why not? If they should get paid more, how much more?
(Judges are paid about $131,000 per year.)
Kashoua “Kristy” Yang:
Honestly, it wasn’t until months into the campaign that I became aware of what a circuit court judge’s salary is. I knew it was over six figures but didn’t know how much more.
I’m not in this race for the money or the benefits. There are more benefits in the private practice; however, no matter whether my income is my private practice income or the judicial salary, my family and I will do just fine. People in the community are able to live on a lot less. I am not retiring to the bench. To be clear, my primary motivation in running for Circuit Court Branch 47 was not to make money but rather to make a difference.
This is an issue that comes up in municipalities and in general discussions from time to time. First and foremost, it’s not my call. It’s an administrative and legislative call. Should a governor make more than a member of congress? Should the sheriff be paid more than a judge? Can we determine who works harder at various elected positions?
I see a couple of problems related to this issue. The first question is: are we paying enough that we are attracting the best and the brightest to the circuit court? Additionally, how much of this whole issue has more to do with perception than reality. The judiciary operates very differently than private law practice. There are issues in our court system we cannot manage. The work can be very labor intensive and no two court calendars are alike.
The public, in some cases, justifiably complains about the return of taxpayer investment in some who hold office.
The courts and judges’ salaries would best be served if some third-party bench mark were used in determining salary increases. Perhaps the COLA or CPI. Discussion about salaries makes for good TV and Radio commercials in a campaign. Voters often object to salary increases for elected officials, and candidates for office who take comments out of context are pandering.
I will graciously accept my salary if elected and accept a raise with gratitude should one occur in my tenure.
Kristy Yang is the owner of Kashoua Yang, LLC, a law firm that concentrates on family law, family mediation, worker’s compensation, and social security disability. Yang was selected as a Super Lawyer Rising Star for the years 2013-2016.
The salary is more than enough for the challenging services circuit court judges are required to perform.
Scott Wales has almost 30 years of experience and specializes in criminal law. He also is Fox Point Municipal judge, a post he has held for more than eight years.
Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.”