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Chief Justice: 800 Kentucky Court Workers Fall Under Poverty Guidelines

Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. told a legislative committee Wednesday that overhauling the Judicial Branch’s "broken salary structure" is his top priority in the proposed Judicial Branch budget for fiscal years 2015 and 2016. 

“Years of neglect have left Judicial Branch salaries woefully behind those in the private sector and the Executive and Legislative branches of state government,” Chief Justice Minton said, according to a news release. “The situation has been exacerbated by years of frozen raises and the Judicial Branch furlough in 2012. The end result is a situation that demands relief. Today, 800 of the 3,300 non-elected court employees fall under the federal poverty guidelines for a family of four. That’s one-quarter of our workforce. Equally disheartening is that an even greater number of court personnel quality for food stamps. It is simply unacceptable that so many of our employees work full time and still live in poverty.

“The other fallout from low wages is what I call the Judicial Branch brain drain. We attract and train high-caliber employees whose dedication for the courts can’t withstand the enticement of higher salaries being offered by the private sector and the other branches of government. The ongoing turnover places a very real strain on the courts as we struggle to maintain a workforce that can continue to provide a high level of service.”

Chief Justice Minton testified about the budget before the General Assembly’s House Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and the Judiciary at the Capitol Annex. The Judicial Branch budget bill for the fiscal biennium of 2014-2016 has been filed as House Bill 238 and requests a total of $361.3 million for FY 2015 and $375.1 million for FY 2016.

The chief justice told the committee that his other budget priorities are maintaining the Judicial Branch’s base budget at current levels with no reductions, funding the required cost of employee benefits and reinvesting savings from House Bill 463 into the Judicial Branch.

“We believe that the wisest course for this budget – given the state’s ongoing fiscal challenges – is to focus only on the items that are critical to our operations and on the long overdue investment in our dedicated court personnel,” Chief Justice Minton said. 

The chief justice is the administrative head of the state court system and is responsible for overseeing its operation. Chief Justice Minton was elected to the Supreme Court in 2006. His fellow justices elected him to serve a four-year term as chief justice in 2008 and re-elected him for a second term in 2012.

Photo: Judge John D. Minton