State judges push for first raise in 13 years

The last time New York judges received a pay raise, Bill Clintonwas president, iPods didn’t exist and pop star Justin Bieber wasthree years old.

However, it appears that help may be on the way for the state’sjudiciary, something that can’t come too soon for local judges, oneof whom was a plaintiff a few years back in a lawsuit intended tojumpstart the process.

On August 26, the Special Commission on Judicial Compensationwill convene for the third time to decide whether to raise thesalaries of New York state judges beyond the rate of $174,000 ayear, which has been in effect since 1999. The committee isrequired by law to make its decision by August 28, and has beenempowered by the state to make the final decision on the matter,unless the legislature passes a resolution to oppose it.

Kings County Supreme Court Justice Arthur Schack – who hailsfrom Bay Ridge — was one of those who took matters into his ownhands back in 2006 when he sued the state for a pay raise.

According to Schack, the problem started when the Unified CourtBudget Act in 1976 put New York judicial salaries in the hands ofthe legislature. He says this move deeply politicized the issue ofjudicial raises.

They haven’t budged, he said. We’ve been held hostage by thelegislature all these years, because the legislature said, ‘If wedon’t get a raise, they don’t get a raise.’

Schack says three similar lawsuits, including one instigated byformer New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye, were also been filed.

If there’s impatience evident, it is likely because judges’salaries in New York rank substantially behind the rest of theU.S., said commission appointee and Bay Ridge resident KathrynWylde,

Adjusted for regional cost differences, New York State has thelowest judicial compensation in the country, Wylde explained.

This impacts the quality of judges New York is able to attract,said another Ridge resident, Kings County Supreme Court JusticeMatthew D’Emic.

Any lawyer out there who might be thinking about a job in thejudiciary has to think twice in order to support their family,D’Emic said.

However, not everyone is completely on board with the raise,especially as New York faces a budget crunch.

New York State is in a fiscal crisis, Wylde noted. [Thecommission] also heard testimony from the state budget director,who said the state can’t afford any more pay raises and made thecase for holding the line.

But although Budget Director Robert Megna may have made hisopposition clear to the Special Commission on JudicialCompensation, appointee James Tallon feels that there is strongagreement on the issue of whether the judges should receive a paybump.

I don’t think anyone has said, ‘You shouldn’t do a raise,’Tallon said. I think the general sense here is it’s time to take astep forward and there’s disagreement on what that number shouldbe.

For Schack, it’s a sentiment that is long overdue.

I could get a kid fresh out of law school at a big firm whomakes more than me or any other state judge, he said.

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