State of New York: Bench and Bar Respond to Judicial Pay Deadlock

The following was received from the New York Law Journal. We appreciate their efforts in compiling this material:

October 12, 2007

Editor’s Note: As the Law Journal receives commentary from sitting judges and members of the bar on the fallout from the lack of compromise in the state’s budget on judicial salaries, we will publish those remarks in this space.


October 12, 2007

To the Editor,

Just as we rely on judges to be fair, it is time for Albany to be fair to our judges. Our judges have not received a pay raise for eight years. Their salaries rank 49th of 50 states when adjusted for inflation. That’s not only an injustice, it’s a disgrace. New York is blessed with perhaps the strongest state judiciary in the nation. But our court system is being jeopardized by Albany’s gridlock. How can we expect to attract and retain the best and brightest legal minds when a newly minted lawyer fresh out of law school can earn more than our most senior jurists? We owe a debt of gratitude to the judges who have continued to serve us well without being paid well. The state is long overdue in rewarding their commitment, dedication and sacrifice.
Jeff S. Korek
The author is president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.


October 9, 2007

To the Editor,

With the Senate and Assembly apparently returning to Albany the week of Oct. 22, 2007, it gives the Legislature the opportunity to finally do the right thing and pass judicial compensation retroactive to 2005 without the entanglement of other issues.

The Legislature’s argument that judicial salaries must be tied to those of the legislators is like a tall tale, it is only true in the telling. Using the judicial pay raise as cover for a legislative one, given the fact that our raise will, at a minimum, be effective two years prior to that of the Legislature, is a gap in time that far exceeds the institutional memory of the voting electorate.

Secondly, there is no need to hold the judicial pay raise hostage in the hopes that a legislative pay raise will be negotiated along with it. As evidenced by Senator Joseph Bruno’s news statement recalling the Senate into session Oct. 22, there are multiple unresolved issues that can be negotiated along with a legislative pay raise without reliance upon a judicial one.

What this salary imbroglio essentially comes down to is pettiness and small mindedness by some members of the Legislature. In other words, they cannot constitutionally receive a pay raise until Jan. 1, 2009, so why should we get a raise before them. But to accuse all legislators as possessed of this attitude would be wrong. There are presently four separate bills, two in the Assembly, two in the Senate, two Democratic, two Republican, which provide for stand alone pay raises for judges without reference to legislative raises. Indeed, three of the four provide for retroactivity to April 1, 2005. ( S6372, S5885, A9370 and A8088).

Reading the memos in support of these bills they collectively accept the fact that New York ” . . . has one of the finest and most respected Judiciaries in the country. In order to maintain this level of excellence, the State must provide adequate salaries and support to its judges.” The memos concur ” . . . that for too long the State has been neglecting their obligation by allowing the Judiciary’s continuing requests for reasonable pay increases to go unanswered.”

It is clear there is bipartisan support in both Houses for a stand alone, fully retroactive judicial pay raise. There is significant opposition, but that opposition is based on a venal response to the Legislature’s own salary quandary.

It is unbecoming for elected officials to avoid their constitutional obligation (see New York Constitution, Article 6, sec. 25), to a co-equal branch of government for petty and personal reasons. The ball of judicial salaries is in the legislative “court.” It is hoped that they won’t takes that ball and go home without first approving appropriate judicial compensation.
Jeffrey D. Lebowitz The author is a Queens County Supreme Court justice.


OCA Not Proper Party In Judges’ Pay Suit September 14, 2007

To the Editor,

In the Law Journal on Sept. 11, page 2 (see below), the attorney for the judges who are petitioners in Maron v. Silver, one of the lawsuits against the Legislature, governor and Office of Court Administration, writes that OCA has “aligned itself” with the Legislature and the governor by allowing the New York Attorney General to argue its position. The papers submitted by the attorney general are addressed solely to the causes of action against the Legislature and the governor.

To the extent that the attorney general’s brief addressed the point on changes in health insurance for judges, it did so because the petitioner judges addressed that cause of action against all respondents, including the Legislature and the governor. In fact, as was set forth in the OCA’s answer to the petition, the health insurance cause of action must be dismissed for failure to join a necessary party because the real party in interest is the president of the Civil Service Commission, who negotiates health insurance packages on behalf of the Judiciary.

OCA is not a proper party to this litigation. We note that the petitioner judges have stipulated to drop OCA as a party and to continue the lawsuit solely against the officials of the legislative and executive branches.
Michael Colodner The author is counsel to the Office of Court Administration.


OCA’s Opposition To Judges’ Lawsuit September 11, 2007

To the Editor,

As the lawyer for the judges who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Legislature, the governor and the Office of Court Administration, I have wondered about the reason for OCA’s opposition to the lawsuit which seeks to achieve for the judges what OCA has been unable to accomplish.

The answer to that question started to crystallize when we agreed to sever the claim against OCA for the unconstitutional increases in medical co-payments and a decrease in medical/dental/optical benefits. (I do not understand why OCA would oppose this branch of relief regarding benefits for the judges).

I always thought that OCA was responsible for supporting the judges. Yet, it seems to have done the opposite.

The Law Journal published a story in the News in Brief section on Aug. 15 (” Judges in Pay Suit Claim Lawmakers Should Forfeit Salaries”), suggesting that the attorney general was representing OCA in the latest application before the Supreme Court in Albany County. Yet on Aug. 20, a correction appeared stating that the attorney general does not represent OCA and that OCA has taken “no position” on the substantive issues the plaintiffs have raised.

First, OCA has not taken “no position” on the issues. It has aligned itself with the Legislature and governor by allowing the attorney general to argue its position.

Second, the attorney general’s brief, published on the Law Journal’s Web site, contains as its third point, “Changes in Insurance Offered by Judiciary Do Not Violate Article VI, Section 25(a) . . . ” That is OCA’s argument against its judges. If the attorney general is not representing OCA, what is the argument doing in the attorney general’s brief?

The OCA promises support for the judges on the one hand, and actively opposes them on the other.
Steven Cohn Carle Place, N.Y.


Surreal State of Legal Salaries in New York August 14, 2007

To the Editor,

Without getting into the question of whether we have all fallen down the rabbit hole with respect to summer associate salaries, there can be no question that we have with regard to judicial compensation. As observed by columnist Gail Cutter in the Aug. 13, 2007, NYLJ article ” Career Coach: Escape From Fantasy Island” (p. 8, col. 1) : “And with recent salary increases, law firm life has turned Manhattan into Fantasy Island. Summer associates are now paid $3,000 a week to endure three-hour lunches at five-star restaurants and nod sagely as a senior partner holds forth on the subtle variations of Cabernets at wine tasting events. Salaries and bonuses are so high they seem to be paid in Monopoly money. More than the case of past salary wars, the legal industry seems to have reached a surreal tipping point. Have we all fallen down the Rabbit Hole?”

Despite increasing caseloads, New York state judges have not received a salary increase (not even a cost of living adjustment), in almost nine years. As starting salaries for beginning associates (who have not been admitted to the bar and therefore unable to practice before the courts by themselves) have long surpassed the salary of a Supreme Court justice, the judges of this state have indeed fallen down the Rabbit Hole. Indeed, no employee serving the court system goes without a salary adjustment, or gets less vacation time, other than a judge.

While the Legislature is by some accounts “considering” a long awaited salary adjustment for judges, perhaps this fall, it will not include any retroactive adjustment for the last nine years. Even if Albany finally passes a salary adjustment, without passage of a meaningful retroactive adjustment, many judges will still be in the rabbit hole, having accumulated debt from rising rents, mortgages and college tuition.

A young associate recently asked a colleague at a bar luncheon, when learning of the judges’ predicament, “So why do you stay?”

The truth is that many of us chose public service as an opportunity to contribute to the good of society. While none of us expect to become rich, we certainly did not expect that a judge’s important work – delivering justice every day – would be so devalued that a summer associate, while partaking of three-hour lunches at five-star restaurants, would make more per week than a judge.
Doris Ling-Cohan The author is a Manhattan State Supreme Court justice.


Criticism on Pay Bill Is Misdirected August 3, 2007

To the Editor,

I read with great interest the letter written by retired Judge Joseph Bellacosa which appeared in the Law Journal on June 29, 2007.

Judge Bellacosa devoted a considerable amount of his letter to the Legislature’s irresponsible actions, the devaluation of the worth of the state Judiciary and the damage wrought on the judicial process itself by the failure of the Legislature to enact a judicial salary package which would represent a substantial raise for the long suffering members of the Judiciary.

I would have thought that someone of the stature of Judge Bellacosa (former Court of Appeals Judge and former chief administrative judge of the Unified Court System) would have known that S.5313, which provided for increased compensation to judges, passed the Senate on April 30, substantially in the form proposed by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye. He should also have known that the Assembly was poised to pass this legislation and it was only after receiving calls from the governor that they lost their resolve and the legislation never came to the Assembly floor.

It is easy to paint everyone with the same broad brush and to claim that an entire system is dysfunctional. By doing so you can avoid pinpointing those who truly are to blame. It would be more productive to direct the criticism towards those who truly have obstructed the passage of Judge Kaye’s judicial pay bill.
John A. DeFrancisco
The author is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.


The Consequences of Judicial Pay Impasse June 29, 2007

To the Editor,

The 2007 regular legislative session recessed without passage of a long-debated judicial salary package. This unfortunate result, in the flurry of the legislative end-game, rests squarely on the executive and legislative leaders who intentionally chose to fail in their responsibility to agree on this issue. While much has been said on the subject, nothing has been done – for the ninth year. Thus, it might be said that little has changed since Day 1, 2007.

I would like to bring focus to an insufficiently recognized consequence and critical aspect of this dismaying impasse. Responsible people ought to be deeply disturbed by the spiraling devaluation of the intrinsic worth of the indispensable services rendered by dedicated judicial officers. This inescapable diminution, in fact and perception, engenders a fundamental loss of respect for the work that judges do.

The leaders of both the executive and legislative branches must face the realization that their slap in the face of the judges is also, more seriously, a blow to the heart of the judicial process itself. Their disregard for the damaging consequences works against the public interest. Indeed, when the judicial process is devalued and disrespected by such indifference, the public and media notice and even emulate its perniciously devaluing attitude. To borrow a judicial phrase, that is a very bad precedent.

It comes as no surprise considering my career paths that I am appalled, and even angry, to witness the executive-legislative “leaders” continuing to proffer only patronizing posturings on this subject to the chief judge and to the public at large.

Consider this paraphrased, yet all too true summary: “The three of us ‘leaders’ are thoroughly persuaded that a judicial salary package is overdue, deserving, and the right thing to do. On the other finger-pointing hand and notwithstanding the conceded rightness of this cause, we will not enact this good and right thing unless we get our log-rolling linkages and poison pill attachments, as part and parcel of the deal!”

This leveraging is crass, unseemly and unacceptable. It is at once a blunt insult and a grave injury, in process and in substance, directed against the judicial branch process.

And if all that were not disappointing enough, it is necessary to be reminded that the still-essentially secretive executive-legislative process of three men in a room, with no effective accountability, excludes the rhetorically co-equal judicial branch from the room. Its voice is treated as having no real potency, and its efforts to protect and maintain the value and respect for its work gets crushed in the vise of the other branches’ opaque process. I find it a bit cheeky for the “leaders” to remonstrate that the judicial branch’s necessary and responsible consideration of a last-resort option is deemed “frivolous,” or self-serving, or other such shibboleths. Perhaps they are looking in mirrors.

The time has come for something to be done. Responsible executive-legislative action is now required, not more hollow words and delays. The Legislature should have the courage to pass an appropriate, clean, stand-alone bill; the executive should show leadership, and sign the bill into law.

Otherwise, what responsible options remain? The Judiciary would be left with no other choice but to resort to the well-established “Rule of Necessity.” Left with only empty assurances, the judicial branch would be, frankly and reluctantly, obligated to invoke its own process. As distasteful as that route is, it would, at least and at long last, subject the dysfunctional legislative process to the transparent light of the still-trusted judicial process, aided by its truth-seeking accountability methods of depositions and discovery. If that is what it ultimately takes to unmask and test the legitimacy of the legislative process, supposedly operating within constitutional principles and legal standards, then so be it.

In sum, the public interest necessitates that the Judiciary might have to exercise its ultimate responsibility, to be sure borne in part from self-interest, to protect the judicial process from devaluation to junk bond status.
Joseph W. Bellacosa
The author has been a judge on the State Court of Appeals, a chief administrative judge of the unified court system, and dean of St. John’s University School of Law.


Judges Expected Sacrifice, Not Abuse June 18, 2007

To the Editor,

The judicial compensation issue impacts not just the judges, their spouses and their children, but every individual, business or other organization in New York which may need judicial intervention to right a wrong, prevent an injustice or vindicate a right. The “implied judgeship understanding” is that lawyers who have advanced in their careers at least 10 years forego the opportunity to make more money and enjoy more “perks” in private practice or the business world in order to reap the psychic benefits of rendering important service to the public.

Judicial aspirants knew that public service means economic sacrifice. They did not sign on for what could only be described as abuse. It is abuse when, a) judges have received no raises since 1999, when far less skilled workers received raises during every one of the past eight years, b) unlike legislators, judges may not supplement their income from outside employment, c) case loads have skyrocketed, and d) judges have mortgage, college and medical bills like many others who receive at least annual cost of living increases.

The actual numbers should trouble any reasonable and fair minded person. The current salary for State Supreme Court judges is $136,700. According to the National Center for State Courts, the present salary, when adjusted for the cost of living, as of July 2006, would be $110,048. This salary is the same whether a judge lives in a relatively low cost hamlet far from a major urban center or in the extremely high-cost areas of New York City, Westchester, Nassau, etc. New York judges make less, after cost of living adjustment, than judges located in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, etc.

The numbers explain why so many talented attorneys who would make excellent judges conclude that they cannot meet their responsibilities to their families and consider a judicial career. The numbers explain why so many dedicated and talented judges are distracted from their work by personal economic pressures and doubts about their career choice. Some of our most capable state judges have already left for private practice or the federal bench. Others are actively considering leaving the bench.

How will we attract and maintain a quality judiciary when the economic reality discourages all but those who are independently wealthy, who are supported by wealthy spouses or other family members, or those who are willing, after their large investment, often facilitated by substantial student loans, in a law school education to live with their families as an ascetic?

The judges’ present plight adversely impacts the respect, dignity and independence of the judicial system. We have witnessed what societies look like where they lack a talented and independent judiciary. The New York judicial system should be held in the highest regard, not viewed as an employer of low cost labor.

Let any individual or entity become a plaintiff or a defendant, and they will understand that this is an embarrassment and an issue that affects all New York citizens who need the court system. New York citizens are entitled to appear before a judiciary that comprises the best and the brightest, not a judiciary comprised of only the wealthy or those willing to be economically abused. Since judges have a limited ability to “lobby” legislators, we all, as “interested parties,” should speak out to rectify this unfairness.

Moreover, since the record demonstrates that political considerations have intruded upon a fair and common sense treatment of judicial salaries by the legislative and executive branches, New York should, in addition to providing a fair salary increase immediately, implement a system whereby an impartial commission would periodically review cost of living adjustments. If necessary, the Legislature would have a veto power. This way, the Legislature would not hold the judicial salaries hostage but could monitor the work of such an independent commission.

The subject problem impacts all socio-economic segments of our society. The business community, the non-profit world, the rich and the poor, are all reliant upon an effective judicial system. They should all speak up now. They should not wait until their well-being is in the hands of one unhappy and frustrated judge.
Scott E. Mollen
New York, N.Y.


Trial Lawyers Support Judicial Pay Hike April 25, 2007

To the Editor,

The New York State Trial Lawyers Association continues to campaign to resolve the crisis created by the failure to enact a pay raise for our judges, who have taken the equivalent of a 17 percent or $23,700 cut in pay, based on what their current salary is worth today compared to when they first received it in 1999. In light of the fact that New York’s 60 percent budget increase – from $73 billion in 1999 to $120 billion in 2007 – it is easy to understand why the best and brightest attorneys would be discouraged from pursuing the formidable responsibilities of a judgeship.

On May 1, our 4,000 consumer advocate attorneys will join in solidarity with our judiciary, protesting the failure of New York state government to treat our judges decently in this regard, across the state in 62 counties where we practice.

To date, the trial lawyers association has, in support of the judicial pay raise:

• conducted hundreds of legislative district office visits statewide;

• coordinated hundreds of legislative capital office visits in Albany;

• authorized my New York State Trial Lawyers Association presidential testimony advocating the clear public interest in achieving judicial pay raises when I appeared before the State Senate on Dec. 4, 2006, the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Dec. 15, 2006, and the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 8, 2007;

• directed its lobbyist teams, including Malkin & Ross, David Dudley & Associates and Ken Riddett, to continue to press this issue as a state trial lawyers priority;

• run full-page ads in the Legislative Gazette publishing an open letter to Governor Eliot Spitzer, the Senate and the Assembly, which first appeared in the Jan. 8, 2007 edition; and

• utilized our bar association’s past presidents to lobby the leaders of the Legislature, and the office of the governor.

Failing to increase the judges’ pay not only does an injustice to the judges and their families, it does an injustice to every citizen of New York state. As an organization that serves to protect consumers, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association will continue its efforts until our judges are properly compensated, preserving for our citizens the quality of a judiciary that, over the course of modern history, has created a body of jurisprudence that is second to none in the nation.

On May 14th, we will once again discuss the judicial pay raises as part of our association’s annual Lobby Day in Albany. Copies of our ads, of my presidential testimony, and our memorandum in support can be found on our Web site or by contacting our bar association’s offices.
Joseph P. Awad
The author is president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.


Asian Bar Cares About Judicial Pay April 18, 2007

To the Editor,

If you were the hiring partner of a law firm and you were asked to hire only experienced lawyers of the highest caliber, but were also told that you could pay them less than the starting salaries of first year associates on Wall Street, you would likely scoff at such an assignment. And if you were such a hiring partner and you were told that candidates for these jobs could expect to work long hours with minimal staff, under public scrutiny, with draconian constraints on the ability to earn outside income, you, as a hiring partner, would probably regard such a recruiting assignment as hopeless. And if you were told that you needed to recruit candidates willing to accept such conditions and salary for life, or at least for periods longer than a decade, any sensible hiring partner would probably throw up his or her hands in despair.

Yet the above description is precisely the dynamic that prospective judges face. The pay scales for both state and federal judges lag far behind those of Wall Street starting associates. As inflation continues to erode judicial salaries, the goal of hiring and retaining the best and the brightest for these positions – among the most critical to the rule of law in our society – becomes increasingly difficult to fulfill.

With respect to federal judges, the salary scale has not changed since 1989. Since 1969, federal judicial pay in real terms has declined 23.9 percent when the salaries of other workers have increased by 17.8 percent over that period. Federal judges now earn far less than not only first year associates on Wall Street, but less than many other federal employees, whose compensation may top $200,000 per year. As a result during the past six years, 38 judges have left the federal bench. And the composition of the judiciary has changed: during the Eisenhower Administration, 65 percent of all judges came from the practicing bar; today, only 40 percent come from the private sector. As Chief Judge John Roberts observed, “it changes the nature of the federal judiciary when judges are no longer drawn principally from among the best lawyers in the practicing bar.”

The situation at the state level is even more dire. The New York state Legislature has recently refused to include a judicial salary increase in its budget even though some state judges make as little as $115,000 per year in one of the regions of the country with the highest cost of living. Even some senior law clerks in New York State can earn more than this $115,000 figure and other state employees earn in excess of $200,000. New York state judges have not had a raise (or any salary adjustment such as a cost of living increase) in over eight years even though the cost of living has increased 26 percent during that time. No other group of judges in the United States has gone longer without a pay raise. In fact, it is hard to think of any group of workers in the entire economy that has suffered for so long with no increase in compensation. Since 1978, New York state judicial salaries have declined 40 percent in real terms. Remarkably, as the salaries of judges have declined, their caseload has increased. For the eight year period from 1997 to 2005 (the most recent available) the filings in the trial courts went up 34 percent. During this time the number of judges increased only 2.6 percent.

Why should the Asian American Bar Association care about substandard judicial pay? Isn’t this an issue for the American Bar Association and the New York City Bar? The answer is no. The Asian American bar passed resolutions supporting higher judicial pay at the state and federal level because minority groups, which do not typically possess inter-generational wealth such as trust funds, are disproportionately affected by low judicial pay. It is qualified minority group candidates who often cannot make the financial sacrifice necessary to become a judge.

More significantly, the Asian American bar, like other bar associations, is deeply concerned about the corrosive effect on the quality of the candidates for judicial office if salaries are not maintained at a high level. If the judicial pay crisis is not soon resolved, qualified candidates will think twice about judicial service and sitting judges will flee the bench. In short, unless steps are taken to provide judges with reasonable financial security, the very judicial independence that is the foundation of our rule of law in America and in New York is at risk.
Vincent Chang
The author is president of the Asian American Bar Association of New York and a partner in Wollmuth Maher & Deutsch.


Appellate Law Sets Guidelines for Recusals April 17, 2007

To the Editor,

When the Law Journal ran an editorial on April 11, it left itself open to honest criticism of its “editorial” and its reporting on the judges’ predicament. As a plaintiff in the pending lawsuit to compel a raise, repeatedly reported by the Law Journal and traditional media, I have been interviewed and quoted by Law Journal reporters. On a number of occasions, I have emphasized that on the issue of recusal, there is appellate law which sets the parameters for judges.

As recently as April 2, 2007, in the pages of the Law Journal, the recusal rule was re-emphasized by the Appellate Division, Second Department in Kupersmith v. Winged Foot Golf Club, page 39, column 6. The rule was set forth in detail in Matter of Independence Party State Committee of the State of New York, 20 AD3d 422.

Despite this emphasis, the Law Journal has not alluded on this issue to anything but the advisory opinion ( 07-25) which did not consider the suit or applicable state law.

This issue is all the more important in light of Judge Judith S. Kaye’s strong language on April 9, 2007: “No Judiciary can maintain public confidence in its independence if the public can question whether decisions are influenced by efforts to encourage pay raises or retaliate for their denial.”

The editorial also believed the following words relevant: “Disgraceful, Shabby, Infuriating.”

The issue of recusal is a serious consideration for every judge.

The Law Journal’s reports in the past have left out an important piece of the picture. As the court in Independence Party said: With respect to recusal, “[a]bsent legal disqualification under Judiciary Law §14, a trial judge is the sole arbiter of recusal.” (People v. Moreno, 70 NY2d 403, 405-406 [1987]). The decision is a discretionary one and is within the personal conscience of the court (see Moreno; Saferstein v. Klein, 288 AD2d 206 [2001]) Yet, “it may be the better practice in some situations for a court to disqualify itself in a special effort to maintain the appearance of impartiality,” ( Moreno).

If a trial judge is as moved as Chief Judge Kaye, I suggest such a jurist may find it difficult to be impartial.

I further suggest that in every relevant case, the effected litigant has a right to weigh in on the issue. I suggest, again, that if the Law Journal is going to report on a subject, its reports should be complete. I am not asking for your support, all I ask is an honest count.
Joseph A. DeMaro
The author is a State Supreme Court justice in Mineola.


Not All Lawyers Agree on Judicial Pay Hike April 17, 2007

To the Editor,

With respect to the Law Journal editorial encouraging the bar “to mobilize for judicial salary hikes” (April 11, page 1), I write to say that I do not believe that every litigation attorney in New York would agree with some of your comments.

The editorial says: “To be sure, lawyers understand more than any other citizens the importance of attracting and retaining the most intelligent, dynamic and independent lawyers to the bench.”

It has been my experience and observation that the most intelligent, dynamic, independent lawyers are not on the bench, but, rather, are practicing attorneys, usually from small firms. These are advocates who have to deal with the demands of clients, the idiosyncrasies of judges, and the tactics of their adversaries on a daily basis. Different kinds of skills are required for each, in addition to scholarly ability and business acumen.

As far as recognizing “that a reasonable salary is essential to achieving [those qualities on the bench]”; the question may be what is a “reasonable salary”? For instance, the salary of Supreme Court judges is more than 2.6 times the average employee salary in New York state, and higher than the average lawyer’s salary. (Source, “Occupational Employment Statistics, New York State Department of Labor”).

I do not know how many lawyers will “exert their influence to give the judiciary the political capital it needs.” However, if the judiciary does not obtain “the political capital it needs,” it will be interesting to see how many judges resign their positions and obtain employment in the private sector.

Be that as it may, certainly these paragons of virtue deserve a cost of living adjustment.
Michael Mantell
New York, N.Y.


Bar Groups Urge Support for Judge Pay Hike
April 16, 2007

To the Editor,

In response to the editorial (“Bar Should Mobilize for Judicial Salary Hikes,” April 11, 2007), the New York State Bar Association has been a vocal leader in the fight for judicial pay raises and will continue to play the important role that it should in pressing for a remedy to this deplorable situation.

For years, we have strongly endorsed Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye’s call for fair judicial compensation, and we have championed her most recent, innovative proposal for a salary commission. These proposals are on our very short list of legislative priorities for 2007. Earlier this year, on behalf of the bar association, I testified before Senate and Assembly committees in support of this position. Together with President-Elect Kathryn Grant Madigan and the bar association’s top staff, I personally lobbied key legislators and their aides, as well as the governor’s staff, in support of the pay raise and the commission. I strongly endorsed the governor’s budget, which embraces both proposals; and the association has advocated these proposals in our priority brochure, which we circulate widely through the offices of government.

In recent weeks, I authored op-ed articles vigorously urging the pay increase and the commission. These articles were published both upstate and in New York City, and many more are in the works. I have emphasized our support for increasing judicial compensation and for enacting the commission in countless print and broadcast interviews, and I have spoken in support of these positions from numerous platforms and in multiple venues throughout the state.

In late March at the height of the budget negotiations, I urged our members, en masse, to communicate the bar association’s stand to their legislators. Our members responded overwhelmingly by sending 2,100 emergency e-mails to the Capitol echoing our position.

In short, the New York State Bar Association has been and will continue to be a vigorous advocate of fair compensation for our judges. I am proud of the correspondence I have received from judges and members thanking us for our efforts. I am gratified that the Law Journal has now added its prestigious voice to this effort.

In all of this, we have followed the great leadership of Chief Judge Kaye and Chief Administrative Judge Lippman, and we will continue to do so in the future.
Mark H. Alcott
The author is president of the New York State Bar Association.


April 16, 2007

To the Editor,

I applaud the Law Journal’s editorial (April 11) seeking to inspire attorneys to demonstrate with words and action support for judicial raises.

While many bar groups have voiced support, I would like to note that the New York State Bar Association (of which I was the immediate past Chair of the Trusts & Estate Section) has made judicial raises a legislative priority for the past two years. Under the leadership of the president, Mark Alcott, the association has ceaselessly vocalized support for pay raises and has taken action by reaching out to its membership and urging them to affirmatively show support.

Recently, on the eve of learning that the impeding budget was unlikely to include raises, the state bar acted immediately to compose an e-blast to its members. The e-blast provided each member with a proposed letter to be sent to Governor Eliot Spitzer and the Senator and Assemblyperson identified by the member’s home zip code. By simply pressing a few buttons on one’s computer, each member could send a letter in which he or she strongly urges the governor and legislators to act.

I was grateful to the state bar for facilitating a means by which I could express my support for judicial pay raises. The state bar’s e-blast could be a model for other bar groups to get their members to send a message that we support our judiciary. While pushing a button may seem a passive act, the result is that each of us becomes an advocate for our profession.
Colleen F. Carew Yonkers, N.Y.


April 16, 2007

To the Editor,

The officers, board of managers, and members of the Queens County Bar Association, commend the New York Law Journal for its recent editorial. The fact that the NYLJ has only, on rare occasions, shared its opinions with the legal community underscores the two salient points made by the editors: A judicial salary hike is overdue, and that bar associations must do even more to show the governor and Legislature that the independence of the judiciary is at stake.

The Queens County Bar Association, even before the editorial, had decided to continue its efforts on a county level. The Queens bar will be providing opportunities for all of its members to express their support for a salary increase to the Queens legislative delegation, and will be contacting other bar associations, within and without Queens, in an effort to create new initiatives in support of Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and the salary increase.
John R. Dietz The author is president of the Queens County Bar Association.


Facts to Support Hike In State Judge Pay
April 5, 2007

To the Editor,

Regarding judge’s salaries, a few additional facts should illuminate the obvious need for a substantial increase. Effective Jan. 1, 2007, California judges were paid $171,648 at the trial court level and $196,428 at the intermediate appellate court level. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, New York ranked sixth during the last two years in per capita personal income growth, ranking fifth in the nation overall. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average worker’s wages have increased by about one-third since 1999, the last time New York State court judges received a salary increase.

Again, using the BLS wage calculator, to keep up with inflation since 1999, judges would have to earn $168,185 today, approximately the same as Governor Eliot Spitzer’s proposed increase. While noted elsewhere, it cannot be stressed enough that judges salaries cannot be held hostage by the Legislature’s failure to increase its own members’ pay for fear of the political consequences. Surely, the budget can be revised to find this relatively paltry sum to increase the salaries of the judges who serve this state.
Thomas Lancia New York, N.Y.


Pay Issue Leaves Judges Despondent April 2, 2007

To the Editor,

I am a Family Court Judge in Albany and belong to a group of 1,200 judges employed by the state of New York. We have not had a raise in over eight years. I want to make the case for why we deserve a raise. First I should say that I love my job. It is a great job. I have worked hard to try to be good at it. I have been a lawyer for over 30 years and 13 of those have been spent as a judge. I make $119,800 per year. I have a good retirement plan and good health benefits. I make about $50 per hour. I am typical of my 1,200 colleagues.

1. New York State judges have not had a raise in over eight years. No other group of judges in the United States have gone longer without a pay raise.

2. During this time, the cost of living has gone up about 26 percent and the minimum wage has gone up four times for a total of 68 percent. Our salaries have gone up 0 percent.

3. The state took over paying judges in 1978. Since that time, the cost of living has gone up over 200 percent. Judges salaries, by comparison, have lagged 40 percent behind inflation.

4. The state’s judges have had three raises in the last 28 years.

5. As a result of inflation, a judge who has dedicated the last 30 years of his or her professional life to the judiciary has lost almost $500,000 in current dollars.

6. I have lost about $110,000 to inflation. My salary is now $25,000 less in current dollars than it was in 1998. It is as if I have worked an entire year for free.

7. The entire operating budget of the state judiciary is 1.35 percent of the total state budget.

8. The raises proposed by the chief judge and the governor will bring us back up to an inflation adjusted level.

9. Those raises will cost about $111 million to fund back to April 1, 2005. The Legislature funded raises to that date in last year’s budget, but never released the money.

10. The cost to fund the retro-active raise is essentially zero because it was raised by last year’s tax levy and was unspent. However, if you are keeping score it represents 56/1000ths of one percent of the entire state budget.

11. The cost to fund the raise for this budget year is 34/1000ths of one percent of the state budget. The total cost of the chief judge’s and governor’s judicial pay package is 9/100ths of 1 percent of the budget.

There has been no objection raised from any quarter that judges do not deserve a raise or that the state can not afford one. Every bar group and virtually every editorial board has supported a judicial pay raise.

What the judges are asking for is this; let us work at our jobs without the fear of becoming poorer each year. We are asking for a salary that brings us up to the increase in the cost of living. For most of us who have been at it for a dozen or more years, we have seen our case loads double during that time.

During the budget negotiations, we heard from many quarters that the judges’ pay increase was being held hostage to legislative pay raises. As a judge, I don’t care how much legislators pay themselves. There is no factual or logical relationship between the pay of a part time legislator and a full time judge. We also heard the legislators complain that they too have not had a raise in eight years. The difference is that they can give themselves a raise any time, in any amount. I hear the blame being cast on the governor. But that is nothing that a 2/3 vote and a little courage couldn’t fix.

It is worth mentioning that the most dysfunctional Legislature in America has saddled our judges with the most dysfunctional court system in America. Our chief judge has dedicated her judicial career to court reform only to be met by complete disregard by the Legislature. Despite this disability, I can say, because I have served on the boards of three national judicial organizations and on the faculty of the National Judicial College, that New York’s judiciary has a reputation for excellence across America.

My experience is that each of us has a great deal of regard for our individual legislators, but their performance as a collective body is pathetic. Truth, transparency and merit are virtues long absent from New York’s legislative process. When is the last time you remember an important public policy matter being openly, honestly and respectfully debated on the floor of our Senate or Assembly? Everything is wheeled and dealed and horse traded and spun by each side to the point where George Orwell merges with Alice in Wonderland. It is a cruel irony, indeed, that our Constitution sets April 1 for the budget deadline.

As a co-equal branch of government, to say that the state’s judges are angry and disgusted beyond measure is an understatement. It is fair to ask what kind of employer would let his workers go for more than eight years without a raise? Who would treat their employees with such disregard? Words are the currency of the judiciary and they now fail us when trying to describe the magnitude of our despondency over the way we have been treated by another co-equal branch of government. The words of attorney Joseph Welch, uttered over 50 years ago during another crisis in governance, do come to mind: “So, Mr. Bruno and Mr. Silver, have you no sense of decency, at long last sirs, have you no sense of decency?”
W. Dennis Duggan The author is past president of the New York State Family Court Judges Association.

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