After more than five years without a raise, some Lucas County court employees were riled to hear that a small group of their co-workers is getting a salary bump.
Eight staff attorneys and one law clerk began receiving a higher wage this week after the nine common pleas court judges voted 6-3 to adjust the salary schedule for staff attorneys by $4,000 a year and nearly $6,000 a year for law clerks.
Staff attorneys do legal research and help write opinions for the judges, while law clerks do the same work but have not passed the bar examination.
Administrative Judge James Bates said six of the judges agreed to increase the base and step salaries for the attorneys and law clerks because their wages were lower than those of another group of employees who do not have to have bachelor’s and law degrees. The dissenting judges, he said, “didn’t want to create this friction among other employees because they thought it would be bad for morale.”
Though he declined to be more specific about the salary discrepancies, the court’s salary schedule shows that before the adjustment, staff attorneys started at $44,509 a year, while court reporters, who transcribe court proceedings, started at $47,538 annually.
Under the new schedule, court reporters’ salaries are unchanged, while staff attorneys now start at $48,539. The starting salary for law clerks rose from $35,377 a year to $41,259.
“I wish we could give everybody a raise,” Judge Bates said, explaining that county commissioners would have to provide the funding for that. “I think it would be a unanimous vote of the judges if we felt there was sufficient money… Right now I’m not confident the county has the money to give raises. We’re looking at the numbers all the time to see how revenue is coming in.”
Like other county employees, the 194 court and judicial employees received a one-time $1,000 bonus earlier this year and have continued to get step increases when they completed specified years of service. They have not gotten an across-the-board raise, though, since Dec. 23, 2007 when a 2 percent increase went into effect.
Likewise, common pleas judges’ salaries, which are set by the state, have remained at $121,350 a year since 2008, according to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Lynne Hartley, criminal bailiff for Judge Linda Jennings and a 31-year court employee, said she felt the raises were so inequitable, she sent a letter to Court Administrator Don Colby and the judges expressing her displeasure.
“The good citizens [and some of the bad] of Lucas County come through the courthouse doors expecting to be treated fairly and equally, with due process for all,” she said. “It is my belief that by raising the pay for staff attorneys, without considering the loyalty and hard work of the three other members of the judges’ staff, you are creating a chasm between the employees and the court, and perhaps even negative feelings toward staff attorneys.”
Judge Jennings said she gave her blessing to Ms. Hartley’s letter but declined to comment further on the salary hike for staff attorneys.
Mr. Colby said the raises took effect this week, which he determined was the break-even point for the court to use the salary that had been set aside for a staff attorney in the former courtroom of Judge James Jensen, who left late last year after he was elected to Ohio’s 6th District Court of Appeals. The judgeship still has not been filled.
Mr. Colby said the new salary schedule for staff attorneys and law clerks will cost an additional $45,000 next year — an amount he expects to be included in the court’s 2014 budget request.
Judge Bates said he would like to make the case for giving all of the court’s employees a raise next year. Mr. Colby is working with County Administrator Laura Lloyd-Jenkins to review the salary schedule for all of the court’s job classifications.
“If employees are anxious for a raise, I’m anxious to give them one,” Judge Bates said.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.