Big Money Groups Back Pay Raise for Judges

January 11, 2017

Justice Pat Roggensack
Justice Pat Roggensack

Special interest groups led by the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), which itself spent an estimated $5.6 million since 2007 to help elect conservative justices to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, say judges need a pay raise.

WMC and the other groups representing real estate, construction, business, agriculture, liquor, tourism and insurance interests made their pitch in a letter to Republican Gov. Scott Walker last week. Their letter coincides with conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice Pat Roggensack’s call for 16 percent raises for circuit, appellate and Supreme Court justices that would cost $6.4 million a year. WMC usually opposes more government spending and takes a hard line on increasing the minimum wage.

Roggensack’s proposed increase would raise annual salaries from about $131,000, to $152,000 for circuit judges, from about $139,000, to $161,000 for appellate judges, and from about $147,000, to $171,000 for Supreme Court justices.

A judicial watchdog group called the Wisconsin Justice Initiative said the timing of the support lent by business groups in lobbying the governor and Roggensack’s proposed increases should be investigated. The group said it was a “clear conflict of interest for judges to ask business groups to support pay raises for judges or even to accept such support” because some of those groups will have cases before the courts. “They obviously are going to want their favors returned,” the group said.

In addition to WMC’s $5.6 million in spending on Supreme Court races, another group that signed the letter supporting judicial pay raises, the Wisconsin Realtors Association, spent about $206,600 in 2013 to help reelect Roggensack.

And in 2010, WMC and the Wisconsin Realtors Association helped write looser Code of Judicial Conduct rules later adopted by the high court that said campaign contributions, endorsements, and outside electioneering activities like broadcast ads and mailings by a person or group in a case before the high court are not automatic grounds for justices who received such support to recuse themselves.

WMC and the other special interest groups, many of which oppose raising the minimum wage, did not specify how much of a pay raise the judges should receive.

Walker is expected to release his proposed 2017-19 state budget next month, and a spokesman declined to say whether the governor would include a pay raise in his budget.