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Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice: Courthouse Employees are Underpaid

Kentucky court employees earn less money than state workers who do similar jobs in other branches of government—and state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton wants the General Assembly to do something about it.The state's court system ability to attract and keep employees is hurt by the lower wages, Minton said in his annual State of the Judiciary address, this year given in Hopkinsville. Often, the Kentucky circuit, civil and other courts will hire and train employees only to have them leave for better paying jobs in other state entities or at private businesses.

"This brain drain reduces the quality of service we provide and makes it more difficult to handle the increasing demands on the courts," Minton said in his address.Minton said he'll ask lawmakers to raise the wages of Kentucky's lowest-paid court employees during the next General Assembly session, which begins in January. It's his top legislative priority, he added.About 18 percent of the state's 3,300 non-elected court employees earn less than the federal poverty limit for a family of four—$23,550 in Kentucky.The call for better wages is paired with plans to improve Kentucky's technology for court filing. As it stands, Kentucky trails other states and the federal court system in electronic court filings. The state is working on an "eFiling" system (that is, electronic filing of paperwork) and a "sophisticated" new case management system, for which the General Assembly approved bonding for earlier this year.Testing of eFiling happens in Franklin County by the ends of the year, he said.In Jefferson County, court employees enduredstagnant staffing numbers while in recent years meeting increasing demands. Statewide, court employees were furloughed for three days last year.Minton said new technology may address the staffing issues.But court employees need better pay if they're dealing with more complex technology to do their jobs, Minton told reporters after his speech.“With the increase in technology, the demands on the jobs—what they’re going to be expected to perform working for the court of justice—is going to become more and more complex," Minton said. “The expectation is high. And I think the compensation for those folks who do those jobs ought to reflect the expectation.”More technology means Kentucky's courts can "do more work with fewer people," Minton said."That’s one of the reasons to pursue the technology implementation," he said. "The jobs the people will be doing will be different jobs and will require fewer hands to do it.”The court system has a compensation commission that should submit a final report on courthouse pay in the next few weeks, Minton said.Minton became chief justice in 2008.Minton also discussed issues with judicial pensions, a decline in trials in criminal and circuit cases and an increase in the number of people representing themselves in court. More on that latter point later.(Image via Shutterstock)

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.