In a story published by the Sun Sentinel this morning, Labarga says getting judges a raise will be among his top priorities in his final year as chief justice. And that's important, he tells the paper, because these judges won't stick around if they're making only three to four times the average Floridian's salary, which is about $40,000 per year.
“We lost a tremendous amount of judges throughout the state,” Labarga said. “They are back in private practice making millions right now. So we need to keep what we have, and we need to attract very talented people.”
If the judges weren't having to cut coupons while listening to cases, they might have turned down those million-dollar job offers in the private sector. Alas, that hasn't been the case, according to Labarga, and many good-hearted public servants are being forced to make boatloads of money elsewhere.
But if Broward County's judges are living off of ramen and tap water, public defenders and prosecutors are even worse off. The average starting salaries for these positions hover around the $40,000-per-year mark. The low pay, combined with the staggering law school debt many new lawyers have, has been the subject of political debate for several years now, and legislation has been proposed to ease the burden.
In 2013, Broward County Rep. James Waldman proposed a bill that would pay up to $44,000 of law school debt for attorneys working in the public sector. And in 2014, the nonprofit Florida TaxWatch said raising starting salaries of prosecutors and public defenders to $50,000 per year would actually save taxpayers millions, based on decreased turnover.
Neither idea, however, has yet been implemented.
Meanwhile, Florida's judges are suffering with six-figure salaries and being forced to take high-paying jobs elsewhere.