Raleigh, N.C. — Court clerks handle everything from divorces to traffic tickets, but they are the lowest-paid employees in the state court system.
Statewide, the starting salary for a new clerk is about $28,000 a year.
"We have clerks that are working two and three jobs to support their family," Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin said.
Orange County Clerk of Superior Court James Stanford said many people leave his office soon after being trained. He asked a woman who is leaving to begin a new job on Monday why.
"Most especially, (she) said, 'I can go into the private sector and work for maybe $6,000 to $8,000 a year more' than what I was able to provide for her here," Stanford said.
Melody Dees has been with the Orange County clerk's office for 29 years. Soon, she will likely retire from the state and pursue a higher-paying job, she said.
"I feel like I have to do that. I couldn't stay," Dees said.
Wake County Clerk of Superior Court Jennifer Knox said she has a hard time hiring and keeping clerks because of the extremely low pay.
"The frustrating thing that we've seen here for the past couple years is the inability to get that $28,000 (starting salary) to go up," Stanford said.
Martin has been talking to lawmakers about properly funding the court system, and he said he hopes the 2 percent pay increase the House included in its $22.1 spending plan will remain in the final budget. The Senate hasn't yet rolled out its proposed budget, but leaders have said they believe the House's plan goes overboard on spending.
"We know we've had better-than-expected revenue collections, and we think it's time to make sure that our court employees receive an increase," Martin said.
This week, he created a commission to take a look at concerns about the court system. The panel will look at everything from technology needs to salaries to maintaining the public's trust and will come up with a roadmap to let lawmakers know how best to address some of these longstanding issues.