Resolving disputes in a court of law is a central tenant of our democracy. Each and every resident -- including our judges -- is entitled to having those disputes handled without attempts to intimidate the courts and unduly influence the judicial process.
Superior court judge Paul DePascale recently filed a lawsuit challenging provisions of the new pension and health care benefits law that increases contributions for New Jersey’s sitting judges, which was upheld in superior court and will now be heard by the state’s highest court. The New Jersey State Bar Association is requesting to appear as amicus curiae in the case, supporting the judge’s position and supporting the importance of an independent judiciary. We agree that the law will diminish the quality of justice.
Judge DePascale, like any other litigant who comes into contact with the court system, is entitled to have his case decided based solely on the facts and applicable law. Since the matter was filed, many observers have focused on the economic issues of a judge’s salary, as compared to other public employees’ salaries. But that is not the real issue here. The issue is the imperative for an independent judicial system.
The strength of our judiciary is best served when those on the bench do not face recrimination in the political realm. That is what the framers of the 1947 New Jersey Constitution believed, and that belief was what the authors of the Declaration of Independence believed. Our constitution said judicial salaries “shall not be diminished during the term of their appointment” expressly to protect the courts and judges from retaliation by the legislative or executive branches when those branches disagree with judicial decisions. This new law undermines that principal goal.
Since the suit over the judge’s pension and benefit contributions was filed, many in the political world have gone far beyond questioning the legal merits of the case. Instead, many have extended unfair personal criticisms of the judge who has handled the case, as well as the judiciary itself.
Such an attack on the judiciary denigrates the separation of powers and the independence of what is a wholly separate branch of government. It strikes at the heart of judicial authority, which our founders believed was so essential to our society. It misleads the public. Even worse, it attempts to influence the judicial process and Supreme Court, which is now set to hear the case.
Whether you support the judge’s litigation or not, the state’s largest lawyers group stands firm in the belief that these affronts to judicial independence cannot be allowed to go unchecked.
Susan A. Feeney