Atlantic Legal Report:Adequate Compensation For Judges Is Essential For New York's Business And Economy

Monday, December 1, 2008 - 01:00

The Atlantic Legal Foundation has issued a report addressing the impact of the current level of compensation of the New York Judiciary on the State's economy and business community.This subject is of particular importance in light of New York's position as the financial and commercial capital of the United States and arguably the world, and New York's troubled current economic environment.

The Foundation's report concludes that inadequate judicial compensation adversely affects New York's economy and that the business community should use its substantial influence and resources to prevent further damage.

The Atlantic Legal Foundation, now in its thirtieth year, is a non-profit, non-partisan organization with a history of advocating for limited, effective government, free enterprise, individual liberty, school choice, and sound science in the courtroom.Its board of directors includes current and former general counsel of fourteen major corporations.Other members of Atlantic Legal Foundation's board of directors and its advisory council have substantial responsibility for business litigation at major law firms.

In preparing this report, the Foundation reviewed relevant statistics, compared judicial salaries in New York to compensation of other relevant groups, and identified publicly available documents that discuss relevant topics.While the public record on this issue is compelling, much of the basis for the report's conclusions is the collective experience and judgment of the Foundation's board of directors which includes literally hundreds of years of responsibility for business litigation at major corporations and law firms as well as observation of the capabilities and performance of hundreds of judges.

New York State judges have not received a salary increase in ten years.William H. Slattery, president of the Atlantic Legal Foundation, noted that "There is widespread agreement that the cause of this extraordinary delay has nothing to do with the merits or the judges' need for a raise but instead is unrelated political congestion in Albany."As a result, when adjusted for statewide cost-of-living, New York State judicial salaries rank 49th nationwide.In addition, New York State's judicial compensation lags behind the compensation of other New York government, non-profit, and private sector positions.

The Foundation's conclusions in its report include the following:

• Judicial compensation in New York is in no sense competitive and is not adequate to continue to attract and retain jurists of the highest skill and experience; most notably, seasoned commercial lawyers in private practice are no longer attracted to the New York Judiciary in adequate numbers;

• Lack of judicial experience and expertise in commercial matters can have a negative impact on the quality of decisions handed down in commercial cases, especially complex litigation.Thus, low compensation will likely reduce the quality of decisions in commercial cases and may increase the costs of litigation due to errors, appeals, and delays;

• The business community needs an efficient, reliable judiciary to resolve controversies. Without an experienced, diverse and skilled judiciary, business activity will be diverted elsewhere, companies will incorporate or move elsewhere because they will lose faith in the ability of the State's judicial system to resolve commercial lawsuits promptly and competently, and New York State's economy will suffer;

• Predictability of judicial decisions is essential to the business community because companies need to be able to anticipate the legal consequences of their business decisions to avoid litigation.If judges are not experienced and expert in commercial matters, the predictability of the judicial decision-making process will suffer and more lawsuits will result, diverting the time and attention of businesses from their primary objectives and hampering their ability to generate revenues and profits.Needless business litigation ultimately has a negative impact on the ability of businesses to pay taxes and to fund payrolls;

• Business leaders in New York and elsewhere must exert their influence to ensure that the judiciary's quality, both in diversity and experience in commercial controversies, is commensurate with New York's place in the national and global market place; and

• Adequate compensation for New York State judges will benefit the business community and the State's economy.Accordingly, the business community should devote appropriate resources and take steps necessary to achieve this objective. In particular, business organizations in New York should include adequate judicial compensation among the principal components of their legislative agenda and individual businesses should support and participate in efforts by those organizations to improve judicial compensation.