The critical issue standing between New York’s 1,300 judges and a ruling that would entitle them to some form of pay relief is a determination of how much proof is needed to show that their independence has been undermined, a Manhattan judge said Thursday during an hourlong oral argument.

That question is “the key to the whole case,” said Supreme Court Justice Edward H. Lehner, who was hearing arguments on a motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by four individual judges.

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