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July 19, 2011

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION CALLS FOR JUDICIAL PAY RAISES

The failure of New York to adjust judicial salaries for 12 years imperils the State's vibrant justice system and the millions of New Yorkers it serves, concludes a report issued today by the New York State Bar Association.

"New York judges have not had a salary adjustment since 1999, even though the cost-of-living index has increased by 40 percent during that time," said State Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III. "We cannot afford to lose more talented and experienced judges."

The New York Times recently reported that the number of judges voluntarily leaving the bench has jumped sharply since 1999 when 48 of the 1,300 state judges left the bench. During 2010, 110 judges resigned. "It is important to have salaries that do not deter highly qualified individuals from seeking judicial office, and to ensure that judges are fairly compensated on an ongoing basis so that we can retain them on the bench," Doyle said.

Since New York State became responsible for funding the court system in 1977, 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.

As a result, 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 report recommends that judicial salaries be increased next year substantially, in an amount at least to reflect the cost-of-living increase since 1999. Under this recommendation, State Supreme Court justices, whose salaries have been frozen at $136,700, would be paid at least $192,011 in 2012. The proposal is not retroactive. Thus, a judge will not recoup $330,000 in lost wages that he or she would have received had there been annual cost-of-living raises.

The State Bar Association is submitting the report to the Judicial Compensation Commission, which is scheduled to hold a hearing in Albany on Wednesday. Created by a 2010 law, the commission's recommendations for judicial pay raises take effect April 1, 2012 unless the Legislature affirmatively modifies or rejects them.  The report can be viewed at: www.nysba.org/judicialsalaries.

The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation.

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