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Ohio's 129th General Assembly ended its two-year session in December after acting on dozens of measures during a busy, post-election lame-duck period.
One proposal that never reached consideration as legislation, however, was a plan to give a cost-of-living pay increase to state and local elected officials.
Sen. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Cincinnati, pushed for an increase that would have taken effect Jan. 1, 2014, if the legislature appropriated enough money in the next biennial budget to cover the cost.
Seitz, who had earlier supported raises for judges, noted that judges, legislators, county commissioners, sheriffs, prosecutors and other elected officials have had no increase in pay since January 2008. Those increases were the result of a bill, passed by the legislature in 2000, which enacted pay raises for the next eight years equal to the consumer price index or 3 percent.
"This is the price you pay to get qualified people to do consequential things," Seitz told the Columbus Dispatch. "Study after study has shown that our judges, compared to other similar states, are being woefully underpaid."
Senate President Tom Niehaus and House Speaker Bill Batchelder let Seitz's proposal die in caucus, but PolitiFact Ohio was still interested in his statement about the comparatively low level of judicial pay.
We called Seitz's office to ask for background. They didn't get back to us during a holiday week, but our own search turned up several supporting sources.
Chief among them was the "Survey of Judicial Salaries," which has been published annually for nearly 30 years by the National Center for State Courts.
The most recent survey, published last July, found that Ohio ranked 41st among the 50 states in average pay for common pleas judges, or general jurisdiction trial courts. The national average pay for common pleas judge was $137,000 in 2011, compared to $121,350 in Ohio.
Ohio's Supreme Court ranked 33rd in pay, with an annual salary of $141,600. The pay for Ohio’s appellate judges ranked 30th, at $132,000.
That put Ohio in the bottom half for each category, according to the NCSC, which noted that Ohio judges have not had a raise since 2008.
(Salaries for full-time municipal court judges are $114,100 while part-time municipal court judges and county court judges have annual salaries of $65,650.)
A 2011 report from the Ohio Judicial Conference found that the pay for judges at the Supreme Court, appeals courts and common pleas courts in Ohio was below pay levels in the "peer states" of Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.
And a 2011 analysis from the NCSC on judicial pay in Massachusetts included what it called the "startling" finding that judges' salaries in the Bay State "fare worse than every other industrial state except Ohio."
What's the verdict on Seitz’s statement?
Saying that Ohio's judges are "woefully underpaid" is a matter of opinion that PolitiFact Ohio can't rate. That’s a point for clarification.
But Seitz was accurate in asserting that Ohio's judges are paid less "compared to other similar states." They are, in fact, paid less at every level than are judges in most other states.
On the Truth-O-Meter, his statement rates Mostly True.
Gongwer Ohio, "Elected Officials Unlikely To See Pay Raise Anytime Soon Despite Push From Locals, Some Lawmakers," Dec. 5, 2012 (Password required)
Columbus Dispatch, "Pay raise for officeholders? Not very likely," Dec. 10, 2012
National Center for State Courts, "Survey of Judicial Salaries," July 2012
Columbus Dispatch, "Judges in Ohio rank low in pay, survey says," July 21, 2012
Court News Ohio, "NCSC Survey Examines Judicial Salaries Nationwide," July 20, 2012
Ohio Judicial Conference, "Judicial Compensation in Perspective," Feb. 17, 2011
National Center for State Courts, Judicial Compensation Resource Guide
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