Less than two years after pay for senior status judges was one of the main issues in the attempted impeachment of the West Virginia Supreme Court, state senators passed a bill Monday to add another way to pay those judges more than the law usually allows.
The Senate approved the bill (SB 97) by a 33-0 margin Tuesday morning with little discussion outside of Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump’s explanation of the bill. Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, was absent.
The bill, which now goes to the House of Delegates, would let senior status judges get paid more than allowed by state law, if they are presiding in a court where there’s a judicial vacancy and there’s a delay in the governor appointing a new judge.
Senior status judges are retired judges who preside over certain cases or in certain courtrooms on a substitute basis, as assigned by the state Supreme Court. In addition to their pension, they get $430 each day they’re on the bench presiding over a court.
State law prohibits senior status judges’ total pay for the year from being more than their full-time counterparts’ annual salaries.
Supreme Court justices are paid $136,000 a year. Circuit court judges make $126,000 annually, and family court judges make $94,500. The annual salary for a magistrate is $52,500.
Last year, lawmakers approved a bill (SB 398) that provided circumstances when senior status judges could be paid more than the law allowed, including when the full-time judge has an ongoing health issue or is serving a lengthy suspension.
The 2019 measure also asked Treasurer John Perdue to file a petition with the state Supreme Court, naming Auditor J.B. McCuskey as the respondent. The legislature wanted Perdue to ask the court to determine whether it was constitutional for them to issue payments to senior status judges.
The state court ultimately declined to issue an opinion on the matter, saying it was a request for an advisory opinion, which the court, in practice, doesn’t issue.