|A seven-member commission on judicial pay held hearings in Albany last month. It voted 4 to 3 to |
approve the increase on Friday.
Commission Raises N.Y. Judges’ Pay 27% Over 3 Years
By WILLIAM GLABERSON, NY TIMES
A state commission decided on Friday to increase the pay of the more than 1,200 New York State judges by 27 percent over three years, ending a decade of battles in Albany and the courts, and giving judges their first raise in 12 years.
The seven-member commission, appointed by the leaders of all three branches of government, had been expected to grant a raise. Still, the amount it settled on was considered very modest — and some judges even expressed bitter disappointment.
The commission voted 4 to 3 to approve the increase, with its members sharply divided in a brief meeting in Lower Manhattan that included accusations of political grandstanding. The dissenters said the raises were too small.
Over years of legislative and legal struggles on the judicial-pay issue, New York’s judges, once among the best paid nationally, slipped to being among the lowest paid.
The increase was small compared with some proposed ones that had called for judicial raises across the court system of as much as 60 percent.
The commission was created under a bill passed last year to try to resolve one of the most contentious and long-stalled issues in state government. “This is a start at correcting the injustice that has been done to New York State’s judiciary over more than a decade of neglect,” said the commission’s chairman, William C. Thompson Jr., the former New York City comptroller.
But Mr. Thompson and other members of the commission also said that the fragile state economy required restraint. Under the commission’s decision, the highest level of trial judges in the state, the justices of the State Supreme Court, would receive an increase to $174,000 from the current $136,700, phased in over three years. That would match the salary of United States District Court judges. The raises for all the judges would cost the state about $50 million a year when they are fully implemented.
The creation of the commission was an effort to minimize political fallout from what was likely to be an unpopular decision in a time of budget cutbacks.
The three commission members appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo were joined in voting for the proposal by the appointee of the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, who, like the governor, is a Democrat. The two appointees of the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, opposed it as inadequate, as did the appointee of the leader of the State Senate, Dean G. Skelos, a Republican. The Cuomo administration had expressed concern about a large judicial pay raise, so it was not unexpected that the governor’s appointees would limit the increase.
The raises will go into effect next spring unless they are overruled or modified by legislation passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed by the governor. Mr. Thompson said he hoped the size of the increase would dissuade the Legislature and the governor from seeking to overturn the decision, which he said would be “disastrous” for the judiciary.
The commission’s decision would govern judicial pay for four years, after which time another commission would revisit the issue. The pay increase would apply to judges from low-level courts like New York City Civil Court and Criminal Court to the members of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
The salary of Supreme Court justices had been viewed as a benchmark, with the commission agreeing to keep in place the relative differences in pay across a complex state court system with many pay levels.
The salary of judges in Criminal Court who earn $125,600, for example, would increase proportionally over the next three years, to $160,100. The salary of the chief judge of the state would go from $156,000 to $198,600.
Judges have argued that the pay stagnation forced some judges to leave the bench. On Friday, some judges said the decision would amplify dissatisfaction in the judiciary. “I think it’s very demoralizing,” said Judge Margaret Parisi McGowan of Queens Family Court.
Phillip R. Rumsey, president of the state association of Supreme Court justices, said the salary levels in New York “will continue to reflect the low regard that other branches of state government apparently have for the judiciary.”
Judge Lippman said that he was disappointed that the raise was not larger and that it would be phased in over three years.
Judge Lippman was deeply involved in the plan to create the commission and said at the time that it was the “holy grail” to remove negotiations over judicial salaries from the political process. Asked Friday if the decision was a setback, Judge Lippman said the commission had been successful because it ended with a pay increase at a time of economic crisis.
“We live in the real world,” he said. “We see what’s happening in Washington and in our own state. We see what’s happening in the stock market.”
The commission had always appeared divided 3 to 3 over how generous an increase would be, with Mr. Silver’s appointee, James Tallon Jr., a former Democratic member of the Assembly, holding the decisive seventh vote. The increase that was approved, Mr. Tallon said Friday, “balances all of the factors that are out there, including an economy that has tanked.”
But in a switch of usual roles, in which Republicans criticize Democrats for spending, Mark S. Mulholland, Mr. Skelos’s appointee, criticized Mr. Tallon.
Mr. Mulholland said the Republican-controlled Senate stood with the judges in seeking higher pay. He said that by bringing the salaries of State Supreme Court justices to $174,000 instead of $190,000 or higher, the state would be continuing what he called its neglect of the judiciary. He said he was “disappointed” that Mr. Tallon had “not seen fit to close ranks with me.” One of Mr. Cuomo’s appointees, Richard B. Cotton, criticized Mr. Mulholland, a Long Island lawyer, saying it was “highly unfortunate to inject scoring political points into this discussion.”
Asked about the comments, Mr. Silver said he had not spoken to Mr. Tallon about his vote, adding that “an independent commission was created to take the decision away from the Legislature and away from political finger-pointing.”
Center for Judicial Accountability opposes judicial raises
Commission's July 20 2011 Hearing
Judicial Pay Lawsuits