New York: State of the Judiciary 2010

Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York
This is my first State of the Judiciary message as the Chief Judge of the State of New York. Months ago, I was expecting to give a live address at Court of Appeals Hall in Albany, similar to those given by some of my predecessor Chief Judges-and next year, maybe I will. But 2010 is very different from earlier years, and this will not be a typical State of the Judiciary message.

In our country and in our State, we have entered a particularly difficult financial period. The sad truth is that the same economic forces that are placing fiscal constraints upon government are also spurring tremendous growth in our already monumental caseloads. As the economy has soured, families are unable to pay their mortgages, consumers default on credit card debt, business deals go bad, and incidents of violence occur in families torn apart by lost jobs and homes in jeopardy. Inevitably, the courts are called upon to sort things out.

Given these hard realities, this State of the Judiciary report will not address broad reform programs and strategic planning efforts that have characterized previous reports (although certainly we are actively pursuing important systemic reforms on our own and in concert with the Legislative and Executive Branches). Nor does it attempt to offer a comprehensive description of everything we are doing in the Judicial Branch.
Instead, the 2010 State of the Judiciary report will focus on how current caseload pressures are increasing the burdens and challenges our judges face on a daily basis; the steps we are taking to continue to meet our constitutional responsibility to deliver justice in each and every case; the efforts we are making to respond to the State’s financial crisis;
and the critical need for a judicial pay adjustment if the Judiciary is to remain a strong and vibrant co-equal and independent branch of government.

Finally, this is not a typical State of the Judiciary report in its timing. The Chief Judge ordinarily reports on the State of the Judiciary by early February, but I decided to delay it this year because of the ongoing judicial salary crisis and resulting litigation.
The last time New York State judges were granted any kind of salary increase was in 1998, effective January 1, 1999. This decade-long pay freeze led to the filing of three lawsuits, and on taking office as Chief Judge, I became the plaintiff in one of the cases,
The Chief Judge of the State of New York vs. The Governor of the State of New York. As a litigant, of course, I took no part in hearing or deciding these cases. The Court of Appeals heard oral argument in January 2010, and I, along with the entire Judiciary,
awaited the Court’s decision, which was rendered on February 23, after which I decided to issue this report. In deference to my Court of Appeals colleagues, I will not address the legal issues in the case, although I very much feel it appropriate and necessary to include commentary on judicial compensation.

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