Salt Lake County should take a close look at the pay scale for its justice court judges, who will be making $60,000 a year come Jan. 1 - 19.5 percent more than they took home in 1994.

Some comparisons point out why the review is warranted: The Salt Lake County commissioners, elected officials who oversee the entire county government, make $70,656 annually; Davis County's sole justice court judge will make $32,380 next year; and the only justice court judge in Utah County is making $46,670.Salt Lake County judges, who are not required to have law degrees, will be making more than 22 of the attorneys in the Salt Lake County attorney's office. In the past five years, the judges' salaries have doubled.

Court officials recommended the raises, citing increasing workloads and advancing technology. Pay scales for judges on all levels should be high enough to attract competent people, but the salaries proposed in Salt Lake County seem out of line.

The judges spend most of their time on traffic cases but are seeing more domestic-violence and drunken-driving cases recently as well. They handle all Class C misdemeanors and small-claims matters from unincorporated parts of the county.

The job is vital to the judicial operation of the county, but the same can be said of the function of justice court judges in Davis and Utah counties, where the pay is substantially lower.

In rural areas, justice court judges make as low as $4,900 a year, but in those cases, the workload is much lighter. However, the cases in Davis and Utah counties would be comparable in number and type with those being handled by the Salt Lake County judges.

The County Commission should take a close look at how the proposed increases were calculated and on what criteria they were based. Underpaying judges would compromise the quality of the courts, but excessive salaries are neither warranted nor justifiable considering limited funds and an assumed goal of pay equity.

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