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The commission studied statistics from the Texas Office of Court Administration and found that district judges serve an average of 9.4 years on the bench, appellate court justices serve an average of 11 years, and high-court jurists serve an average of 16 years. The judges' legal careers, including their time on the bench, spanned about 30 years. Judges' extensive legal experience may indicate that "compensation is a barrier to younger but still experienced attorneys," says the report. Many judges may retire "in the near future," and it's important to ensure that "compensation is set at a level adequate to recruit the future generation. …"
But it may be hard to attract high-quality lawyers, because they make considerably more than Texas judges. The commission studied data from the State Bar of Texas and found that full-time lawyers make an average of $153,434.
In comparison, the Texas Supreme Court chief justice and Court of Criminal Appeals presiding judge earn $152,500.
Steve Burgess, judge of the 158th District Court in Denton, says the commission's recommended pay raise for district judges -- from $125,000 to $151,909 in state salary, plus supplemental pay from his county -- would make a huge difference to his family, because he could "start thinking about helping my kids go to college." Burgess and his wife have six children who range in age from 2 years old to 16 years old.
"I make much less than what I did as an attorney," he says. "My children's expectations of a college education, of what their world is going to be like, was shifted when I took office."
Burgess says, when he took the bench, he took a loan from a relative to make payments on an unexpected $50,000 debt he incurred while closing his law practice; his new judicial salary wouldn't cover the payment. He also sold his car to eliminate the car payment. His family doesn't do everything it did before "because we don't have the financial means to."
"What I'm hoping is: They take a different lesson from that and realize, sometimes, it's not just about you but about everyone one else and trying to serve -- trying to do right, trying to do good and trying to help people," he says, adding, "My wife and kids are not happy I'm a judge because of the impact it's had at home."