Cobb Superior Court judges got a pay raise earlier this week thanks to the generosity of the Cobb commission.
But there was a problem.
It was illegal.
Voting for the raise were Chairman Mike Boyce and Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Lisa Cupid.
Superior Court judge pay comes from a combination of a state salary and a county supplement meant to compensate for the higher caseloads and higher cost of living in places like Cobb or Fulton counties.
In 2015, state lawmakers wanted to narrow the gap between the lowest-paid and highest-paid. So they capped the supplements at $50,000. Any Superior Court judge, district attorney or public defender making more than that could no longer receive a raise.
Boyce said he was unaware of the cap. But he insisted rectifying Tuesday’s mistake would be simple; commissioners could repeal their vote.
“The other issue is the (raise) they paid them in 2016,” he said Friday. “And I wasn’t around for that, all right, so I’m going to let the lawyers get involved in that one. I just don’t know what’s going to happen there.”
In December 2016, commissioners voted to raise the judges’ supplement by 3%, to $75,822. Since then, those 10 judges have each been paid about $2,200 more than they were supposed to earn each year, almost $60,000 total. The county’s lawyers are now trying to figure out what to do.
Calls to the county’s lawyer, H. William Rowling, Jr.; Tom Charron, Cobb Superior Court administrator; and Superior Court Chief Judge Reuben Green were not returned Friday.
“If you’ve given a raise and you violated state law in giving that raise, and you’ve already given it out … I don’t see how you go back and recoup those funds,” said Clint Mueller, the legislative director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which publishes a guide titled “Computing County Officials Salaries” each year. The guide mentions the supplement cap.
Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, helped craft the legislation capping the supplements.
“Because of the supplements, salaries varied all over the state, from $110,000 to 200-something-thousand,” he said. “We couldn’t raise the salaries for the lowest paid judges because that would be a windfall for the highest paid judges.”
According to a state commission that studied their pay, only seven judicial circuits paid Superior Court judges a supplement of $50,000 or more in 2016; Cobb’s supplement, $73,614, was second only to Augusta’s. Its district attorney was earning the highest supplement in the state: $78,382.
“Of the 159 (counties), probably 90% or more, it’s not an issue because they’re not anywhere near $50,000 for their supplements,” Mueller said. “You’re only talking about a handful of counties in the state where this would come into play.”
There was another reason for the cap, Mueller said: trying to pressure the state, rather than local governments, which have less money to play with, to give judges and other officials cost-of-living adjustments.
Powell confirmed this, but said there’s a reason the state hasn’t given its judges a raise since 2016.
“We’ve got a lot of state employees that have not received enough of a raise since the recession,” he said. Lawmakers are more inclined, he continued, to give the state’s other employees a raise before giving its judges their second since 2016.
Joyette Holmes was named the Cobb district attorney earlier this year. Its 10 Superior Court judges are:
♦ Chief Judge Reuben Green
♦ Judge Mary Staley Clark
♦ Judge S. Lark Ingram
♦ Judge Robert E. Flournoy, III
♦ Judge J. Stephen “Steve” Schuster
♦ Judge C. LaTain “Tain” Kell
♦ Judge Robert Leonard
♦ Judge A. Gregory Poole
♦ Judge Ann Harris
♦ Judge Kimberly Childs