Missouri’s chief justice urges pay increase for court employees in speech to legislature

L.G. PATTERSON/Associated Press file photo

The Missouri Supreme Court’s chief justice asked the legislature to increase compensation for the state’s 3,000 court employees at the annual State of the Judiciary speech Wednesday.

Chief Justice Paul Wilson urged the approval of a 8.7% cost of living adjustment for all state employees during his address, which is an annual speech addressed to both chambers of the legislature that outlines judiciary priorities for the year.

The cost of living adjustment is part of Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s recommendations for the supplemental budget for fiscal year 2023. The Missouri House Budget Committee approved its version of the supplemental budget Tuesday, and included the cost of living adjustment.

Wilson also addressed issues of privacy for judges and mental health resources for individuals facing trial.

“Too often, we are confronted with individuals manifesting mental health conditions so profound, they are not even competent to stand trial,” Wilson said.

Wilson said resources like medication and case management can restore people’s ability to stand trial, and urged the lawmakers to make it easier to bring those resources to people. He also said how effective treatment courts are in finding the best solutions for individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Rep. Patty Lewis, a Kansas City Democrat, said that she was glad to hear mental health issues included in the speech, and she hoped the bipartisan effort will continue.

“Hopefully we can continue to work together and address the mental health crisis that is plaguing our state,” Lewis said.

Wilson restated what he brought up at last year’s speech: that the state’s mental health crisis is also increasing threats of violence towards judges. He encouraged lawmakers to consider multiple bills that would increase privacy for judges.

Sen. Curtis Trent, a Springfield Republican, is sponsoring legislation that would remove a judge’s personal information from publicly displayed content upon written request.

“We want judges to make impartial decisions based on the law, and to be able to do so without fear, either to their own safety or to the safety of their family,” Trent said.

Wilson also asked the legislature to help preserve and promote their constituents’ trust in the judicial system. He said if people lose all trust in the process, mob rule determines what is right, and the legislature and judiciary will have failed to uphold their duty to the institution.

“We are the ones who apply and enforce the laws you write,” Wilson said. “So, when you speak to your constituents, remember how important it is for them – and you – to understand and trust your judicial system.”

Wilson was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2012. In 2021, he began his two-year term as chief justice.