AUSTIN – If a county policy does not reduce a county judge's salary because the judge receives pay funded by the state, that county may deny the judge longevity pay, according to Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Paxton answered Leon County Attorney James Caleb Henson’s inquiry on whether a county commissioner’s court can implement a longevity pay policy for employees that excludes a county judge, who is paid a state judicial supplement, in a Feb. 15 opinion.

According to Henson, Leon County presently authorizes “longevity pay to employees and elected officials who are full-time employees not being paid by grants,” according to the request for opinion.

“Leon County Personnel Policy Manual 4.03{A)2 excludes employees from receiving longevity pay if they receive a salary supplemented by the state of Texas,” Henson writes in the request. “This has the effect of excluding two county office holders from receiving longevity pay, the county judge and county attorney.”

Henson ended his request letter asking if the rule applies to Leon County judges under Texas Government Code §26.006(c). The attorney general began explaining his answer, citing Henry v. Cox 2017 to detail that "the commissioners court is the county's principal governing body, exercising ‘aspects of legislative, executive, administrative and judicial functions,’” according to the opinion.

Paxton goes on to cite Canales v. Laughlin 1948 to note that the commissioners court has the authority to recompense any officer or employee based on their responsibilities before explaining a county judges’ work tasks.

“A county judge has two distinct constitutional functions. First, the county judge is the presiding member of the commissioners court, the legislative body of the county with 'jurisdiction over all county business,'” Paxton writes in the opinion. “Second, the county judge presides over the constitutional county court, performing judicial functions as the legislature provides.”

Paxton then explains laws surrounding a county judges’ annual salary additive varies region by region, however Section 26.006 does allow an annual additive for magistrates who complete considerable responsibilities.

“A county judge is entitled to an annual salary supplement from the state in an amount equal to 18 percent of the annual compensation provided for a district judge in the General Appropriations Act if at least 40 percent of the functions that the judge performs are judicial functions,” Paxton writes in the opinion.

“The commissioners court in a county with a county judge who is entitled to receive a salary supplement under this section may not reduce the county funds provided for the salary or office of the county judge as a result of the salary supplement,” Paxton adds in the opinion.

Paxton concluded that if the government code is adhered to, Leon County can in fact implement longevity pay for a county judge.

“Thus, if a county has never paid or agreed to pay longevity pay to the county judge, paying other officers and employees longevity pay does not ‘reduce the county funds provided’ for the county judge,” Paxton writes in the opinion. “Moreover, provided the county has not reduced the county funds that make up the county component of the judge's salary, its reasons for not including the county judge in the longevity pay policy are immaterial for purposes of subsection 26.006(c).”

Paxton ended his opinion directly addressing the initial question by Henson.

“The Government Code does not preclude a longevity pay policy that excludes the county judge, provided the policy does not effectively reduce the county judge's salary to offset the county judge's state salary supplement,” Paxton concluded in the opinion.

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