New York State Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III today expressed concern that the Judicial Compensation Commission approved a relatively modest salary adjustment for New York's judges whose wages have been frozen since January 1999. The commission voted to increase the annual salaries of state Supreme Court justices from $136,700 to $160,000 in 2012, $167,000 in 2013 and $174,000 in 2014.
"During the past 12 years, the cost-of-living increased by 40 percent, eroding judicial salaries. Yet the commission voted to adjust judicial salaries by only 17 percent in 2012," said Doyle (Connors & Vilardo, LLP) of Buffalo. By 2014, the third year of the phase-in, judges salaries will have risen 27 percent over a 15-year period, far less than the projected inflation rate.
"A well-functioning Judiciary is critical to our system of government. It safeguards the rights of all New Yorkers while resolving both criminal and civil disputes in a fair and impartial manner," Doyle said.
"Salary stagnation is more than a personal hardship for judges. It threatens to undermine our judiciary, making it harder to attract and retain talented judges," Doyle said. "New York's judiciary has a well-regarded national and international reputation. We put that reputation at stake if we continue to devalue our judiciary by not adjusting judges' salaries."
Judges are leaving the bench voluntarily in record numbers, according to a recent New York Times article. In 1999, 48 of the state's 1,300 judges resigned. In 2011, 110 quit the bench. "Judicial pay scales should not be so inadequate that they encourage top judges to resign-or deter highly qualified attorneys from seeking judgeships," Doyle noted.
Doyle said he also was disappointed that the commission called for phasing in the adjustment over three years.
"Judges have waited long enough," he said. "We recognize the state's fiscal problems and that many New Yorkers have been forced to sacrifice. For judges, the sacrifice has been particularly long and onerous. Since 1999, in good economic times and bad, judges' salaries have not increased even by one cent."
The Judicial Compensation Commission was created by a measure signed into law by Governor David Paterson in 2010. The commission's recommendations will take effect April 1, 2012 unless the Legislature affirmatively modifies or rejects them.
In a report issued in July 2011, the State Bar Association called for raising salaries of state Supreme Court justices from $136,700 to $192,000, to reflect the increase in the cost-of-living since 1999.
In 1977, the state government became responsible for funding the newly created Unified Court System. Since then, judicial pay raises have been infrequent. "A pattern of long periods of salary stagnation [were] interrupted by occasional 'catch-up' increases," the Bar Association report says.
Thus, the report notes, "A judge serving since 1995 has received only one pay increase, in 1999. A judge serving since 1988--23 years ago--has received only two salary adjustments, in 1993 and 1999, while seeing inflation dramatically erode his or her salary."
The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1976. For further information, see www.nysba.org/newscenter.
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