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Hawaii’s historically underpaid judges are receiving huge raises this year to bring their standard of living up to par with their mainland counterparts.
Their relatively low pay has made it hard for the state to attract and retain talented attorneys to serve in the Judiciary, particularly at the general-jurisdiction level.
Until the raises went into effect July 1, Hawaii trial judges ranked last in the nation in terms of salary when the cost of living was factored in, according to a comparison by the National Center for State Courts.
There were 32 circuit judges earning $136,127 per year in 2012, which put them 25th nationally — and that’s before calculating in Hawaii’s cost of living, which is the nation’s highest. When the salaries were adjusted to reflect this, the state’s circuit judge salaries were dead last.
That all changed July 1 when the raises took effect.
Thirty-three circuit judges now make $185,736 per year, more than their counterparts in any other state were earning as of Jan. 1. The new salaries don’t make Hawaii’s circuit judges the highest paid when the cost of living is considered, but it certainly gives them a big boost.
The state’s 36 district judges enjoyed a similarly large salary bump, from $128,296 in 2012 to $175,032 in 2013.
Pay at the highest court followed suit.
Hawaii’s four associate justices earned $151,118 per year in 2012. They’ll make $206,184 in the 2013 fiscal year.
The head of the Hawaii Supreme Court, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, saw his pay go from $156,727 last year to $213,840 for 2013.
Recktenwald remains the highest-paid employee in the Judiciary, which employed 1,854 employees as of July 1. (That is a 73-employee decline from the previous year.)
Raises for Judiciary employees in 2013 were more modest, but their wages were already more competitive with their national counterparts than the judges’ salaries were.
The average Judiciary employee in Hawaii earned $57,365 in 2012, based on the upper end of the salary ranges the Judiciary provided. That rose to $65,252 in 2013.
The judges’ huge pay increases were a result of the Salary Commission’s recommendations in 2007, which similarly sent legislators’ salaries soaring. Voters created the commission in 2006 to determine salaries for state lawmakers, judges and justices, the governor and lieutenant governor, and the directors and deputy directors of the executive branch.
In both instances, however, it was really a matter of playing catch-up. Neither branch had seen much in the way of pay raises for two decades. The salary increases were supposed to take effect more gradually, but wages were frozen — and then cut 5 percent — during the recession.
Here’s the state salary database for 2013. You can search by first and last name, department, job title, salary range and year. To compare how this year stacks up to previous years, check out the salary database that covers 2011 and 2012 here.