SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s justice system relies on judges to oversee trials around the state. But experts are telling lawmakers that New Mexico’s district judges aren’t getting paid enough.

The Judicial Compensation Commission was created in 2005 as an independent group to make recommendations on judge pay. In their 2023 report, the commission says the state should up district court pay to over $200,000.

The commission says a pay boost of about $37,000 per year would help bring more diverse and experienced lawyers to the job that’s crucial for the state’s court system.

“Pay is a significant factor having an impact on the diversity of candidates who seek judicial
office,” the commission wrote in their report. “Candidates with only criminal law experience have a steep learning curve when serving in districts where judges hear a diverse range of civil, family, juvenile, and criminal cases. The adverse effect of inadequate judicial salaries in reducing the scope and experience of judicial applicants is acute in New Mexico and is a problem recognized throughout the nation.”

To raise district court judge pay, the state would also have to raise pay for the New Mexico Supreme Court Justices. Right now, pay for both state supreme court justices and district judges ranked below average compared to district judge (or general jurisdiction judge) pay across the U.S. Illinois pays the highest, offering over $234,000 while West Virginia only pays $138,600 according to data from the National Center for State Courts.

In a Courts, Corrections & Justice Committee meeting on October 25, several lawmakers discussed the issue of judicial pay. Lawmakers generally seemed supportive of putting more money towards the state’s justice system, but the idea of increased funding has to be presented in the state budget during next year’s lawmaking session. The commission says the pay raise would cost the state about $6.05 million each year, plus some extra to keep up with inflation.