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NY's chief judge is suing state

Lawsuit filed in Manhattan's state Supreme Court over judge's pay
April 10, 2008 6:50:23 PM PDT
The state's chief judge sued the state Thursday over its failure to increase judicial salaries.The lawsuit by Chief Judge Judith Kaye was filed in Manhattan's state Supreme Court. It says that because the state's judges have not had a pay hike since January 1999, their salaries have in effect shrunk by 27 percent.

Kaye's lawyer, Bernard Nussbaum, said it is illegal to reduce a sitting judge's salary, and that is in effect what has happened.

The state budget approved Wednesday by the Legislature includes $48 million for pay raises that would include the judges. But while that funding is available in the budget, the money can't be spent until the Legislature agrees to a bill that would authorize the raises.

Nussbaum said the state's 1,250 judges sometimes make less than freshman associates in New York City's larger law firms. The jurists' annual average pay, ranging from $108,800 for a full-time city court judge to Kaye's salary of $156,000, ranks 49th in the nation, the lawyer said.

Nussbaum, a former counsel in the Clinton White House, said he wants state judges to earn the same as federal judges, $169,300 a year.

He said he is asking for a trial on May 14 and has said that he will try to have Gov. David Paterson and other state leaders summoned to testify.

"We're asking for an order that the money be paid," Nussbaum said.

He said this means the court would issue a judgment directing the state treasury, through the comptroller, to pay the judges.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, a Republican, issued a statement saying that rather than suing, judges should step up pressure on the Assembly to act on either of two pay increase bills already approved by the Senate.

A spokesman said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, supports pay raises for judges, agency commissioners and legislators.

While state leaders agree judges' raises are overdue, the issue has been stalled because lawmakers linked it to politically sensitive raises for themselves. Other state employees have had at least cost-of-living bumps.

Kaye spokesman David Bookstaver said salaries for nonunion court employees are frozen at a maximum of $115,000 so they won't make more than the judges.

Nussbaum said lawmakers in each legislative house have tried to put blame on members of the other, but they are all to blame.

"It's their fault," he said.

He said the lawmakers' linkage of judges' pay to salary hikes for themselves is illegal and has blocked the judges' wage boosts.

Nussbaum, who says he is working on the case for free, said the difference between this lawsuit and two others brought by judges is that this one is being filed by "a separate branch of government," not by Kaye as an individual.

The lawyer said Kaye was able to file it in state court, before a judge who will be affected by the outcome, because of the 500-year-old "rule of necessity." He said this means that if every available judge would normally be disqualified, then any judge other than the one filing the lawsuit can hear the case.


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