State Politics

NC Chief Justice: Courts treated like a state agency

Mark Martin, the chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, says that when it comes time for lawmakers to set the state budget, the courts are not always treated as the separate branch of government that they are.

“Sometimes we feel ourselves being a little bit treated like DMV,” Martin said referring to the state division of motor vehicles.

Martin, state Appeals Court Judge Wanda Bryant, Executive Director of the Judicial Standards Commission Carolyn Dubay, and Sharon Gladwell, communications director for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, visited The News & Observer on Tuesday and offered a glimpse of the workings of the justice center.

Bryant, chairwoman of the Judicial Standards Commission, which reviews complaints against judges, talked about ethics rules that govern judges and how the bulk of the complaints are from people who didn’t like the outcome of their cases in district court – or “the people’s court,” as she called it.

Martin further discussed the difficulties of obtaining funding for the courts and how North Carolina, the ninth most populated state, does not rank ninth in what it pays its judges.

According to the National Center for State Courts, which tracks judicial salaries across the country, North Carolina ranks 41st in what it pays Supreme Court justices compared to other state high court salaries, 33rd in what it pays appellate judges and 41st in trial judges.

The National Center for State Courts lists the salaries as $139,896 for the state’s highest court, $134,109 for the appellate court and $126,875 for the trial court.

In addition to the salaries set out by state statute, judges get longevity pay as a supplement.

Martin said North Carolina needed to start acting like a “big state because we are a big state.”

He noted that UNC system chancellors are paid far better than judges. The lowest salary paid to a UNC system school leader is $230,000 to the head of the N.C. School of Science and Math. Randy Woodson, the N.C. State University chancellor, is the highest paid chancellor at $590,000.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1