Lawmakers: Florida court employees need a pay raise

Employees across the state who work in courthouses, like Miami-Dade’s, want raises.
Employees across the state who work in courthouses, like Miami-Dade’s, want raises. Miami-Dade

Florida’s court system is struggling to recruit and retain qualified and experienced professionals. And that’s a problem all Floridians should be concerned about. Courts have a direct effect on our lives. Crime victims are heard. Criminals punished. Families add new members through adoption and couples go their separate ways. Businesses are bought and sold. All in our courts.

To handle this important work, trained court workers are needed. But increasingly they are leaving for higher-paying positions, whether in local or state government or the private sector. When experienced workers leave, the courts are finding they can’t be replaced because starting salaries are too low for key jobs. Sadly, too, an increasing number of veteran workers who value serving the state through their work in the courts are having to supplement their income with second jobs or seek financial assistance just to provide for their families.

The reason for this dilemma has nothing to do with Florida’s court system being an undesirable place to work. It’s a matter of dollars and common sense.

As a former public defender, and a longtime trial attorney, I have seen first-hand how valuable these jobs are in ensuring our courts remain a healthy, and efficiently functioning system.

That’s why lawmakers should approve the judicial branch’s request for $10.3 million, which would go to address a range of salary issues for those employees who don’t sit behind the bench.

It should be noted that the new dollars won’t give everyone a raise but will go to increase the pay for jobs that are crucial to keep the courts running but are seeing high turnover now.

For instance, how can Florida hope to keep foreign language interpreters when the federal courts offer $20,000 a year more on average?

Most people who use the courts today receive documents electronically. That’s how pleadings are filed. Technology is essential. But Florida courts can’t keep chief technology positions filled. The state system’s starting salary cannot match the national salary average which ranges from $25,000 to $55,000 more per year.

Likewise, digital court reporters and trial law clerks have starting salaries in Florida that fall well below the national median.

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Nowhere is this more evident than in Miami’s 11th Circuit, which is struggling to find qualified entry-level and senior trial court law clerks. In the past 18 months, the 11th Circuit lost two senior clerks to higher-paying jobs and two separate recruitment efforts failed to fill those vacancies.

Increasingly employees who do stay find they have to take second jobs. In North Eastern Florida’s Seventh Judicial Circuit, 20 percent, a fifth, of court employees have asked permission to seek a second, part-time job.

Florida’s court system is blessed with staff dedicated to the mission of the third branch of government.

All employers know this to be true: If you want good to staff to stay on board, you need to let them know they matter. These new dollars will show existing employees that we understand the hardships they face, and that we care enough to take the necessary steps to alleviate their financial burden. It will ensure that Florida’s our courts remain a desirable place to work for the clerks, translators, technology officers and other employees who jobs are vital in keeping the courthouse doors open so Floridians can have their day in court.

Attorney Michelle R. Suskauer is currently president of The Florida Bar and a criminal defense attorney at Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein, P.A. Suskauer began her legal career as an assistant public defender in West Palm Beach.