Idaho Chief Justice recommends legislation to increase judge salary and safety

The Idaho Supreme Court is located in Boise. Photo credit: Ken Lund

Chief Justice G. Richard Bevan delivered the annual State of the Judiciary to members of the Idaho House and Senate on Jan. 18.

Bevan first argued that judicial independence was instrumental to the function of democracy.

“For this system to work correctly, our judges cannot make decisions based on politics, popularity or the public’s wishes, no matter how forceful the drumbeat of the populist band,” Bevan said. “We construe the law as written. As Chief Justice Roberts has said, the role of a judge is to call balls and strikes. We are not to pitch or bat. Sometimes this means we reach unpopular conclusions that raise questions. But this is what our Constitution demands and what our judges provide: Justice based on the rule of law, no matter the judge’s personal views of the legal principle being applied.”

He spoke on the increasing risks to judges’ safety over the last year. He condemned those who use violence and threats against judge’s rulings they didn’t like.

“We judges understand that disagreement with our decisions is part of the landscape in which we operate,” Bevan said. “But when disagreement becomes personal, to the point of threats against personal safety and security, with individuals publishing our private information online, or coming to our homes for face-to-face confrontation, which I and other Idaho judges have experienced, a line has been crossed that must be reinforced — and reinforced convincingly.”

Bevan encouraged members of both houses of Congress to support legislation to maintain judicial safety and protect the safety of judges in this increasingly politically polarized environment.

Britt Raybould, one of Idaho’s representatives to the Idaho House of Representatives, agreed with the legislature’s need to act.

“I respect his concerns about the increasing risk these judges face,” Raybould said. “Threats often follow them to their homes and impact their families. If we want to continue recruiting and retaining talented individuals for our judicial branch, we must address this issue.”

Increased judicial salary

Bevan brought up two additional suggestions for legislation. The first was increasing the salary for judges. In Idaho, financial compensation for judges is determined separately from other state employees, a process requiring legislation and an allocation from the General Fund.

Last spring, Bevan conducted a survey of members of the Idaho State Bar about judicial service as a career. One of the primary concerns expressed was having more competitive pay comparable to what attorneys in Idaho can make.

“For district court openings in 2022 we averaged just five attorneys per opening,” Bevan said. “With no disrespect to those who applied, this is simply inadequate. I ask that this session you consider legislation on judicial compensation that helps maintain a highly qualified and experienced judiciary.”

Treatment courts

Bevan’s second suggestion for legislation: Keep supporting treatment courts. Bevan spent a significant portion of the speech talking on this subject. Over the last 25 years, Idaho has established 68 treatment courts.

“Treatment courts provide support, supervision and accountability for people in the justice system with significant substance abuse and mental health issues,” Bevan said. “Beyond just imposing consequences, these courts help participants achieve stability, sobriety and become valuable members of their communities.”

Over the last year, the Supreme Court adopted rules to support these courts to help provide uniformity for adult treatment courts while still allowing for local variations in practice. Bevan said this exercise was a community effort, bringing in input from judges, the Treatment Court Committee, local stakeholders and members of the public.

“We hope the rules will lead to even greater success in these courts — providing good options to avoid incarceration when feasible,” Bevan said.

Bevan hopes the legislature will continue funding these courts and promote legislation that will benefit them.

Doug Ricks, Madison County representative to the Idaho Senate, praised treatment courts.

“It’s a good alternative rather than just putting some in body lockup and expecting behavior to change,” Ricks said. “You gotta work with some of the people, especially if there are some addiction-type problems going on.”

Those interested can read Justice Bevan’s State of the Judiciary in full here.