Matt Rothschild
Campaign Cash

Business Groups Back Pay Hike For Judges

Roggensack wants 16% raise for judges, gets support of special interests.

By - Jan 14th, 2017 01:21 pm
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Patience Roggensack

Patience Roggensack

Special interest groups led by the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), which itself spent an estimated $5.6 million since 2007 to help elect conservative justices to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, say judges need a pay raise.

WMC and the other groups representing real estate, construction, business, agriculture, liquor, tourism and insurance interests made their pitch in a letter to Republican Gov. Scott Walker last week. Their letter coincides with conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice Pat Roggensack’s call for 16 percent raises for circuit, appellate and Supreme Court justices that would cost $6.4 million a year. WMC usually opposes more government spending and takes a hard line on increasing the minimum wage.

Roggensack’s proposed increase would raise annual salaries from about $131,000, to $152,000 for circuit judges, from about $139,000, to $161,000 for appellate judges, and from about $147,000, to $171,000 for Supreme Court justices.

A judicial watchdog group called the Wisconsin Justice Initiative said the timing of the support lent by business groups in lobbying the governor and Roggensack’s proposed increases should be investigated. The group said it was a “clear conflict of interest for judges to ask business groups to support pay raises for judges or even to accept such support” because some of those groups will have cases before the courts. “They obviously are going to want their favors returned,” the group said.

In addition to WMC’s $5.6 million in spending on Supreme Court races, another group that signed the letter supporting judicial pay raises, the Wisconsin Realtors Association, spent about $206,600 in 2013 to help reelect Roggensack.

And in 2010, WMC and the Wisconsin Realtors Association helped write looser Code of Judicial Conduct rules later adopted by the high court that said campaign contributions, endorsements, and outside electioneering activities like broadcast ads and mailings by a person or group in a case before the high court are not automatic grounds for justices who received such support to recuse themselves.

WMC and the other special interest groups, many of which oppose raising the minimum wage, did not specify how much of a pay raise the judges should receive.

Walker is expected to release his proposed 2017-19 state budget next month, and a spokesman declined to say whether the governor would include a pay raise in his budget.

Matthew Rothschild is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Categories: Campaign Cash, Politics

6 thoughts on “Campaign Cash: Business Groups Back Pay Hike For Judges”

  1. Milwaukee Native says:

    So a Supreme Court justice is stumping for judges to get a pay raise that will cost taxpayers roughly 1.5 times as much as all prior annual funding for state parks–funding that has since been erased from the state budget. And now the Legislature wants to hike fees to use state parks and trails even higher than last year’s increase.

    Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is already considered “the best court money can buy.” It seems that’s enough incentive to recruit judges. Anyone pulling down a salary of $147K–plus generous benefits–can hardly cry poor.

  2. Null says:

    Supporting raises for public employees as a matter of public policy is hardly quid pro quo corruption. Are teachers unions acting corruptly when they lobby the legislature for raises or support legislators that agree with them with campaign donations? Higher salaries make judges less susceptible to money flowing from the donor class, not more. Who needs the risk of illicit payoffs (or headache of wealthy favor-seekers) when you are financially secure yourself?

    And whatever you think of the business lobby’s involvement here, the idea of judicial raises itself should be uncontroversial. Indeed, former Chief Justice Abrahamson made much the same case two years ago:

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    Raising their salaries when they are already very wealthy is likely to reduce the likelihood of judges being influenced by cash from donors? Sure and Trump will drain the swamp too.

  4. David Nelson says:

    Null: The right complains about giving raises or even paying current salaries for civil servants. That includes cost of living increases. Unless the person in question is something like an influential conservative figure or part of a class of conservative supporters. So yes, this is a shameful attempt to enrich those who have shown no interest in the economic well being of the rank and file worker in general.

    As for needing to pay judges more to avoid corruption, that is way too simplistic a statement. Some corruption is avoided by possessing financial security, some is attracted by opportunity for gain. The character of the person is shown in part by not acting in a way which indicates bad ethics. And this particular Supreme Court has chosen the low road multiple times.

  5. Null says:

    David Nelson: the raise is not limited to conservatives judges. It is an admission by conservatives, however tacit or qualified, that paying public employees better improves recruitment, retention, and quality (and reduces the likelihood of corruption, even if you think that statement too simplistic on its own). Just because an idea is being proposed by someone with whom we might ordinarily disagree does not make that idea a bad one. This article casts judicial raises, an idea that would ordinarily be championed by progressives, in a bad light simply because the business lobby supports it. That’s not smart.

  6. David Nelson says:

    Null: I have often heard the Left defend the jobs and pay of civil servants and similar folks (or at least keeping up with the cost of living). The Left, however, generally doesn’t limit that idea to the better paid politically active positions.

    The current “conservative” environment in Wisconsin is one which disempowers good governance, working folks, and education. Our economy is floundering. Our government is becoming considerably more opaque (when it isn’t reveling in obvious disregard for the less influential) and is removing safeguards to prevent abuse by elected and appointed officials. The current court is supportive of this situation, which makes it ironic that some justices feel they lack adequate compensation while receiving handsome salaries and benefits. Would they be as quick to defend the ability of their constituents to earn a reasonable living? If you follow Wisconsin politics, you know that most of our Supreme Court would not.

    While standing on the Capitol Square a few years back, I heard part of a conversation between politically connected folks. They were laughing at recent additions to various Wisconsin State Courts. Now I understand this will be hearsay, so discount this section if you must. The conversation turned around the poor academics and job performance of these “conservative” judges. One GOP guy went so far as to say that he was embarrassed about the situation, despite agreeing with most of the outcomes. He said something like, “I went to law school to understand how to build a solid case based on sound principles and an evident process. These jokers not only sidestep that, they often do not seem to understand the weakness of their work. I prepare for every case, I’m not sure they do much more than check their marching orders.”

    Much the same thing has been stated in Wisconsin and national news sources, and there has not been a convincing refutation of that criticism. It is not enough to say someone is respectable and learned. They must actually possess those qualities. Sure, respect the position and the hope that Wisconsin will benefit from reasoned judicial guidance and decision, but do not automatically hang the mantle of paragon on the office holder.

    The problem here is that some folks are allowed to be paid well for providing what should be a civically motivated service. Sure, some private attorneys make a lot more than the Supremes, but then again, some of the Supremes are not particularly sharp and may not want to work that hard. Not all firms are going to pay the big bucks for mediocre talent. Perhaps they would do so for a former State Court judge, but not as much before the fact.

    I don’t want to leave the Dems out of this either. Every state in the Union has hacks occupying judicial positions, some of which are nominally to the Left. No need to respect anyone who lacks excellence, yet possesses a heaping helping of self-interest.

    Go ahead, talk about “smart”. Whether it is a Liberal reader here or a Conservative attorney standing in front of the Capitol, it just doesn’t wash.

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