Raise for N.Y. judges not enough, Bar prez says

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 29, 2011, 2:52pm

ALBANY, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) - The president of the New York State Bar Association is calling a 27 percent pay raise over three years for state Supreme Court justices "inadequate."

The state's Judicial Compensation Commission voted Friday to increase the annual salaries of Supreme Court justices from $136,700 to $160,000 in 2012, $167,000 in 2013 and $174,000 in 2014.

President Vincent E. Doyle III expressed concern that the commission approved a "relatively modest" salary adjustment.

In a July report, the bar association had called for raising salaries of state justices to $192,000.

"During the past 12 years, the cost-of-living increased by 40 percent, eroding judicial salaries. Yet the commission voted to adjust judicial salaries by only 17 percent in 2012," said Doyle, of the Buffalo law firm Connors & Vilardo LLP.

By 2014, the third year of the phase-in, judges' salaries will have risen 27 percent over a 15-year period -- far less than the projected inflation rate, Doyle said.

"A well-functioning judiciary is critical to our system of government. It safeguards the rights of all New Yorkers while resolving both criminal and civil disputes in a fair and impartial manner," he said.

Salary stagnation, he said, threatens to undermine the judiciary and makes it more difficult to attract and retain talented judges.

"New York's judiciary has a well-regarded national and international reputation. We put that reputation at stake if we continue to devalue our judiciary by not adjusting judges' salaries," Doyle said.

He points to a recent New York Times article that indicated judges are leaving the bench voluntarily in record numbers: in 1999, 48 of the state's judges resigned; so far this year, 110 have quit the bench.

"Judicial pay scales should not be so inadequate that they encourage top judges to resign -- or deter highly qualified attorneys from seeking judgeships," Doyle said.

Doyle said he also was disappointed that the commission called for phasing in the adjustment over three years.

He said judges have waited long enough.

"We recognize the state's fiscal problems and that many New Yorkers have been forced to sacrifice. For judges, the sacrifice has been particularly long and onerous. Since 1999, in good economic times and bad, judges' salaries have not increased even by one cent," he said.

Two members of the judicial commission, Robert B. Fiske Jr. and Mark S. Mulholland, said earlier this month they were in favor of more sizeable increases for justices.

Fiske had proposed that their pay be increased to $195,754. Mulholland had proposed their salaries be upped to $220,000.

The two also supported raises for trial and appeals judges.

Last month, The Brennan Center for Justice also sent a letter to the commission, urging it to recognize that annual salaries for state judges and justices warrant adjustment and should be increased to a fair level.

The Judicial Compensation Commission is an independent body "tasked with examining, evaluating and making binding recommendations with respect to judicial compensation for New York State's judges," according to its website. It was established last year by former Gov. David Paterson.

Its recommendations will take effect April 1, 2012 unless the state Legislature affirmatively modifies or rejects them.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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