Chief Judge Announces Five-Point Plan to Address Judicial Pay Crisis
|In a public statement delivered at Court of Appeals Hall in early April following the approval of the state budget — without a cost-of-living pay raise for New York udges — an impassioned Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye outlined a five-step plan, declaring that she will "leave no stone unturned" in obtaining raises for state judges.
Judge Kaye delivers her April 9 statement on the judicial pay
crisis, which was followed by a
Photo: Dave Oxford, New York
||Of the 50 states, New York has gone the longest without a judicial pay increase. New York judges are in the ninth year of a pay freeze, having last received a salary adjustment in January 1999. Chief Judge Kaye had proposed a cost-of-living adjustment for New York judges based on the salaries of federal district court judges, with retroactive adjustments to April 1, 2005.
In addition, to make the process of setting salaries for high-level state officials more transparent and accountable, and to end the cycle of long periods without raises, the Chief Judge proposed the establishment of a broad-based commission to periodically study and set salary increases for judges and other high-level state officials.
The governor and legislative leaders had expressed strong support for judicial pay increases, and the Chief Judge’s salary proposals also won numerous editorial endorsements. Nonetheless, the Legislature and governor failed to agree on judicial salary adjustments because the issue became embroiled with unrelated issues in the budget negotiations between the two branches. Judge Kaye expressed the frustration of all New York judges over the failure of compensation reform for reasons wholly unrelated to the merits, stating, "These most recent days have been distressing and infuriating for me and for all my colleagues on the bench as we struggle to comprehend why, yet again, the measure has failed for no reason related to its merit, or to us."
Chief Judge Kaye warned of the dangers of a failure to maintain adequate compensation for judges, stating, "No society can expect its courts to function with the excellence the public deserves when the issue of judicial compensation reaches such a level of unfairness and disdain, when our judiciary can no longer expect to attract and retain the very best lawyers at the pinnacle of their careers."
Judge Kaye also warned that if no action is taken on judicial salaries before the Legislature adjourns in June, "the only remaining course of action available to us may well be to institute litigation with the full weight of the state judiciary behind it." "That truly would be a sad day for us, for state government and for the people of New York," she said.
No society can expect its courts to function with the excellence the public deserves when the issue of judicial compensation reaches such a level of unfairness and disdain, when our judiciary can no longer expect to attract and retain the very best lawyers at the pinnacle of their careers.
-Chief Judge Kaye
Here is Judge Kaye’s five-step plan as outlined in her April 9 statement:
Step One: Judge Kaye has written to the legislative leaders asking to speak on the subject of judicial compensation directly to members of the Legislature either in a joint session or in the respective conferences in each house.
"Basic fairness and respect for our status as a co-equal branch dictate that the vital question of judicial compensation not be considered — and certainly not rejected — without affording us even an opportunity to be heard."
Step Two: Judge Kaye has invited the governor and legislative leaders to the Court of Appeals — or alternatively has offered to go to the Capitol herself — to discuss the judicial pay crisis.
It is essential that the other branches understand that we in the judiciary have reached a critical point in our history and that efforts must be directed at achieving a resolution while there is still time."
In addition, she is urging that discussions on this subject among the governor and the legislative leaders be conducted in a transparent manner and that she and Chief Administrative Judge Lippman be included in those discussions.
Step Three: New York’s Law Day 2007 ceremonies at courthouses across the state will focus on judicial independence, and in particular on the connection between judicial independence and judicial compensation.
Surely our founders, in providing for lengthy judicial terms and prohibiting diminution in judicial compensation — both as a means to assure judicial independence — could not have envisioned the thicket into which we have been thrust."
Step Four: The National Center for State Courts will undertake an independent assessment of the consequences of New York’s more-than-eight-year-long judicial pay freeze, both from a state and national perspective. The center’s report will be completed and made public by May 15, 2007.
Step Five: The Judiciary will seek an advisory opinion from the state attorney general and the state comptroller on the feasibility of unilateral action by the third branch to increase judicial salaries.
"This is entirely in keeping with the judiciary’s longstanding practice, within the context of our separation-of-powers framework, of asking New York’s chief legal officer and chief fiscal officer for their interpretation of key provisions of the law bearing upon extraordinary administrative action and the expenditure of monies in the public treasury."
The Chief Judge emphasized that "while pursuing this course, I want to be clear that my foremost objective, and my intention, is to work with the governor and Legislature for comprehensive reform, including statutory adoption of our proposals for new judicial pay scales and a cost-of-living-adjustment-based quadrennial commission system for ongoing pay adjustments for government officials."
View Judge Kaye’s statement in its entirety:
Spring 2007 (PDF)
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