Attorneys representing the West Virginia Treasurer’s and Auditor’s offices this week told the West Virginia Supreme Court to allow them to abide by a new law passed by the West Virginia Legislature in wake of the 2018 impeachment proceedings against justices of the Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, attorneys representing state Treasurer John Perdue and Auditor J.B. McCuskey presented arguments before the justices, whom they asked to weigh in on how their offices should respond to requests to pay senior status judges even when it may be in violation of existing law.
The Treasurer’s Office filed the petition at the behest of the West Virginia Legislature. Representing the Treasurer’s Office, J. Mark Adkins, with Bowles Rice on behalf of the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office, asked the justices to allow the Treasurer’s Office and Auditor’s Office to comply with a law legislators passed this year.
The Auditor’s Office was represented by Stephen Connolly, general counsel for that office.
The legislature passed Senate Bill 398 during the 2019 legislative session in the wake of the 2018 impeachment of members of the state Supreme Court.
Among the issues for which the legislature impeached three of the current and former justices was for their authorization of excessive payments to senior status judges.
In SB 398, lawmakers acknowledged the payment cap for senior status judges but also acknowledged there may be circumstances when those judges may need to work for extended periods of time, earning them more pay than state law allows.
To be paid above that cap, the chief justice of the Supreme Court has to issue an administrative order approving the excess pay. The administrative orders previously were part of practice of the court, but the legislature made the practice part of law in SB 398.
To that end, the legislature passed a law forcing Perdue to file a petition with the state’s highest court, asking them to provide clarity for how to address such situations.
When asked by the justices, Adkins said there had not been any instances of a senior status judge exceeding the salary cap since the legislature passed the law in March.
Senior status judges and magistrates are retired from full-time judicial work, but they remain available to fill-in on cases when a full-time judge can’t work for any number of reasons, including a conflict of interest or an extended illness.
Those senior status judges and magistrates receive their retirement payments on a regular basis. When they are appointed to substitute for existing judges, senior status judges receive payment per each day they serve.
Under state law, the senior status judges and magistrates aren’t permitted to have their retirement payment plus their senior status pay add up to more money than the annual salary of their full-time counterparts.
Circuit court judges are paid $126,000 per year. Family court judges make $94,500 each year, and magistrates are paid $57,500 each year.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the annual salaries of family court judges and magistrates. A previous version of the story stated incorrect salaries for those positions.