Letter From The President Of The New York County Lawyers' Association

2008-02-01 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

"If indeed the judiciary of this State must be reduced to begging and pleading, denied any place at the negotiating table, our fate tied to wholly irrelevant political linkages, then the Bar of this State - our vital partner, the most powerful, sophisticated, resourceful, outstanding lawyers in the entire world - must help end this quagmire."

- Remarks of Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye,NYCLA Annual Dinner, December 11, 2007

The New York County Lawyers' Association has historically advocated for regular and fair judicial salary increases. Judicial compensation is not and should not be a political issue. It is first and foremost an issue of equity and respect for a co-equal branch of government. Unfortunately, for nearly a decade, judicial compensation in New York has been caught in the middle of executive and legislative political gridlock. In January 2007, the year began with much hope and promise that the days of Albany politics as usual were over. There were high hopes that after eight years, the men and women who sit on the bench in New York would finally receive fair and competitive compensation. At the end of January, the Governor proposed an executive budget that included over $100 million to provide all state judges with pay raises retroactive to April 1, 2005. This would have resulted in a significant judicial salary increase. But hopes were quickly dashed. As a May 1, 2007 New York Times headline stated: "Raise for State Judges Gets Caught in Crossfire Between Spitzer and Bruno."

As we begin 2008, New York state court judges have entered their ninth year without a salary increase. Our state judges are paid substantially less than their federal counterparts, whose own salaries are inadequate. Indeed, in December 2007, the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation that would give federal judges their first pay raise in decades. At the beginning of January, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, in his annual year-end report, urged both houses of Congress to approve a federal judicial salary increase in 2008. Also, Chief Judge Kaye presented a proposal that would provide for an immediate salary increase and create a commission, with members to be appointed by both the Legislature and the Chief Judge, to set future judicial salary increases.

During this nine-year pay drought, the judicial workload has increased and so has New York's cost of living. The National Center for State Courts' 2007 special report found that the salaries of New York state court judges are the 48th lowest in the country when adjusted for cost of living. This situation is particularly acute in New York City. The report indicated that because of the high cost of living in New York, a New York Supreme Court Justice has less purchasing power than that of a trial court judge in Montana. Given that in some Manhattan neighborhoods the price of a co-op or condominium has risen to over a million dollars and the rental market is commensurately high, a state court judge can face an average home price of over seven times his or her income.

NYCLA has historically recognized the vital role bar associations must play to ensure that we have a strong, independent and fairly compensated judiciary. Almost 100 years ago, on May 21, 1908, the Association's first president, John Dillon, speaking about the dangers to individual liberty, stated: "If such attempts are or shall be made by popular conventions, by legislative or by executive sanction, an independent judiciary backed by the organized voice of the legal profession is our main if not only defense and bulwark." NYCLA will continue to vigorously defend the independence of the judiciary and demand that judges be compensated fairly. The continued failure to adequately compensate our judges is both disrespectful and deplorable. Enough is enough!

Sincerely,

Catherine A. Christian