Gwinnett County Attorney
The Gwinnett County Commission may increase the annual salary supplement for superior court judges beyond the minimum $19,750.00 provided for by local legislation, but a percentage of any such compensation must likewise be paid to the other county officials whose salaries are linked to local supplements paid to superior court judges.
You have requested a review of the opinion of your office that the Gwinnett County Commission may lawfully compensate the superior court judges of the Gwinnett Judicial Circuit in an amount equal to their cost to purchase health, retirement, and life insurance benefits without providing corresponding compensation to other county officials who are compensated based upon a percentage of the salary of those judges. My examination of the general and local laws relevant to your inquiry leads me to the contrary conclusion.
The salary of superior court judges is set by general law. See O.C.G.A. §§ 15-6-30 and 45-7-4. Code Section 45-7-4(a)(20) provides in pertinent part that in addition to the specific state salary enumerated therein, "[e]ach superior court judge shall also receive any supplement paid to such judge by the county or counties of such judge's judicial circuit as may be provided for by law." Other than the state salary and the county supplement, no other form of compensation is authorized.
In 1989, the General Assembly enacted local legislation which, according to the caption of the Act, specifically addressed "the supplement of the salary of each of the judges of the Superior Court of the Gwinnett Judicial Circuit." 1989 Ga. Laws 4882, 4882-83 (emphasis added). The relevant provisions of Section 1 of the Act provide that "the salary of each such judge shall be supplemented in the amount of $19,750.00 per annum from the funds of Gwinnett County . . . . In addition to the above provisions, the governing authority of Gwinnett County is authorized to pay the superior court judges of the Gwinnett Judicial Circuit such amount as shall be fixed by the governing authority." Id. at 4883 (emphasis added). The plain meaning of this provision, as gleaned from both the caption to the Act and the language of the Section itself, is that the county must pay $19,750.00 in supplemental compensation, and that it may provide additional compensation as authorized by the governing authority as part of the annual county supplement. To construe the local legislation otherwise would suggest that superior court judges are entitled to a state salary, an annual local supplement, and some other additional local compensation not provided for in general law. This clearly cannot be the case since local law which implements general law cannot alter the general law. Pace v. City of Atlanta, 135 Ga. App. 399, 400-401 (1975).
The local legislation authorizing salaries for the clerk of superior court, the judge of the probate court, the sheriff, and the tax commissioner provides that these county officials shall receive "75 percent of the annual salary of a judge of Superior Court of the Gwinnett Judicial Circuit plus 75 percent of the annual supplement paid to such judge by the governing authority of Gwinnett County." 1989 Ga. Laws 4887, 4887-88. As discussed above, any compensation paid to the superior court judges by the local governing authority must be a part of their local supplement, and therefore payments in an amount equal to their cost to purchase health, retirement, and life insurance benefits would necessarily trigger the percentage payment to the other county officials.
In summary, it is my unofficial opinion that the Gwinnett County Commission may increase the annual salary supplement for superior court judges beyond the minimum $19,750.00 provided for by local legislation, but that a percentage of any such compensation must likewise be paid to the other county officials whose salaries are linked to local supplements paid to superior court judges.
JEFF L. MILSTEEN
Deputy Attorney General