State judges in Iowa collect above-average salaries compared with their peers nationwide, but also have seen their net pay decrease in recent years, a review of court data shows.

District judges ranked 18th among states, appeals judges ranked 16th and associate high court judges ranked 14th in terms of pay this year, a national report published this month said.

The breakdowns showed that Iowa judges’ salaries climbed gradually for five years, until state budget cuts froze pay and forced all court employees to take 10 days of unpaid leave.


Salaries have not changed since 2008 in light of the recent cuts and are not expected to rise next year because of financial constraints.

But changes in state judges’ retirement accounts now require them to contribute more, which results in a net pay decrease, said Iowa courts spokesman Steve Davis. The contributions “will continue to climb over the next few years,” he said.

Iowa trial judges earned about $137,700 per year as of June 30, compared with the national average of $134,826, according to the latest annual report published this month by the National Center for State Courts. The median salary for trial court judges nationwide was $130,312.


The salary freezes in Iowa reflect a national trend as state legislatures wrestle with tight budgets, said Greg Hurley, a spokesman for the National Center for State Courts.

“The trend this year is nobody got a raise,” Hurley said. “This is the first time, since we started looking at this data, that we’ve seen such a dramatic lack of raises.”

The data do not include salaries of chief judges in trial or appellate courts, who earn more under the law. Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, for example, makes $170,850. The amounts are set by state lawmakers.

Judges below the district court level were not counted in the national report, but they generally make less than their counterparts. Iowa juvenile court judges, for example, make $122,400, while magistrates who handle misdemeanor cases and small-claims disputes part time earn $37,740.

Judicial salaries had been a priority for court officials before state revenue shortfalls forced lawmakers to tighten the budget.

In her 2008 State of the Judiciary speech, Ternus asked lawmakers to enact the final recommendations of an Iowa State Bar Association task force, which called for phased pay increases and cost-of-living adjustments.

Attracting experienced lawyers to serve as judges “may become increasingly difficult” if the pressures and demands of the job appear to outweigh the compensation, Ternus said.

“There is, however, something you can do to ensure that well-qualified attorneys continue to apply for judicial service,” Ternus said in the speech. “It is imperative that judicial compensation reflect the vital and increasingly difficult role judges play in our society.”


Judges’ salaries

Year Salary Rank
2009 $137,700 18
2008 $137,000 17
2007 $128,544 24
Year Salary Rank
2009 $147,900 16
2008 $147,900 15
2007 $136,739 20
Year Salary Rank
2009 $163,200 14
2008 $163,200 12
2007 $146,890 20
The data represent either actual salaries or the most representative figures available – either the base salary, the midpoint of a range between the lowest and highest supplemented salaries.

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