Compensation of North Carolina Judges

The National Center for State Courts just released new rankings of judicial salaries. How does North Carolina fare?

I wrote about judges’ salaries here 10 years ago, and the post generated considerable discussion about whether North Carolina judges are paid adequately. Thanks to the National Center’s Judicial Salary Tracker, here, we have some updated grist for the mill.

We’re 44th. Or 31st. The Tracker indicates that our “general jurisdiction judges,” which in this context seems to mean superior court judges, have the 44th highest salaries among the 51 jurisdictions it tracks — all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Adjusted for cost of living, however, our judges’ compensation rises to 31st.

How much is that, exactly? The current state budget provides that superior court judges be paid $132,584. Senior resident superior court judges make about $4,000 more, and the figure used by the National Center appears to be a blended average of those salaries. The figure used by the National Center does not appear to include longevity pay as provided in G.S. 7A-44. Of course, it is possible that other states have longevity pay or other salary adjustments that don’t appear in the National Center’s figures, too. Likewise, the study also does not account for retirement benefits, either in North Carolina or in other states.

Compensation of appellate judges. The Center also tracks the compensation of appellate judges. Our court of appeals judges are paid 36th most among the states, while our supreme court justices rank 43rd. These figures are unadjusted for cost of living.

What about magistrates? The Tracker does not include any information on magistrates’ compensation. Magistrates’ salaries are set by statute. See G.S. 7A-171.1. Compensation increases with experience, and magistrates who are lawyers start at a higher salary than new magistrates without a law degree. Many magistrates who are attorneys or who have a substantial amount of experience earn salaries between $49,000 and $55,000. Because the role of magistrate differs so much from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, comparisons between states are difficult. Still, North Carolina may be lagging in this area. This news article reports that on average, full-time magistrates in South Carolina make $66,161. This report states that in Kansas, magistrates make $61,746. In West Virginia, magistrates earn $57,500. Given the important role that magistrates play in the criminal justice system, and the increasing complexity of their jobs, it may be worth looking more closely at their compensation.

As always, readers’ thoughts are invited.