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ALBANY � In an impassioned plea for higher judicial salaries, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye yesterday called on the state Legislature to boost the pay of judges for the first time since 1999. “Six years later, we have fallen far behind federal judicial salaries, and far, far behind the salaries of brand new lawyers at many large law firms,” the chief judge said in her annual State of the Judiciary address. Chief Judge Kaye declined to request a specific percentage increase. She suggested that judicial salaries in New York should keep pace with the salaries of federal judges. Although New York and federal trial judges both made $136,700 in 1999, U.S. District Court judges are now paid $162,100. New York’s Supreme Court judges still make $136,700. Also, appellate judges in New York are paid $144,000, compared with $171,800 at the federal level. And Chief Justice William Rehnquist is paid $208,100, compared with the $156,000 paid to Chief Judge Kaye. The chief judge said she has yet to match the salary she earned as a litigator in a Manhattan law firm 22 years ago. Also in her annual message, Chief Judge Kaye: • Urged the Legislature to create additional Family Court judgeships. She said a more detailed county-by-county legislative proposal will be released later. • Stressed that there is no plan to impose a mandatory pro bono requirement on attorneys. Fear of such a mandate is partially behind a proposal before the New York State Bar Association to broaden the scope of activities that count toward the 20-hour pro bono goal. • Called on the Legislature to change the way judges are nominated for elective position. Currently before the Court of Appeals is an administrative order that would establish a screening process. But the chief judge said she would far prefer a legislative response. • Described a new initiative in the Bronx housing court whereby tenants have access to legal and social services necessary to keep them in their homes. Chief Judge Kaye said a $1 million grant from the United Way of New York City targets residents of the 10451 ZIP code. The initiative is under way. • Announced a collaborative effort with Columbia Law School’s Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic to provide Internet assistance to self-represented tenants. Pay Raise ‘Urgent’ Chief Judge Kaye called the pay raise issue “urgent” and a “priority matter.” As it now stands, judges and lawmakers typically go years with no raise, then get a hefty increase. The last raise, from 1998 to 1999, increased judges’ salaries by 21 percent. However, there has been no increase since. “We think there should be a permanent mechanism so we don’t get in this situation where our judges are 20 percent behind on 25 percent cost of living increases,” she said. Lawmakers in attendance responded positively to the chief judge’s plea for higher judicial salaries but did not sound particularly optimistic that raises could be obtained this year. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John A. DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, said judicial raises, while “long overdue,” are almost always linked to raises for legislators. This year, he said, there is no political will to increase legislative salaries. He said the Judiciary’s only hope for a raise this year lies in separating legislative and judicial salaries. On judicial election reform, the Court of Appeals has before it a proposal advanced by the Administrative Board of the Courts. That proposal would establish a statewide screening process in an attempt to reduce the role of politics and political bosses in the selection of judicial candidates. However, concerns persist over whether the Judiciary can or should effect a major change on electoral procedures through an administrative rule. One member of the Administrative Board, Presiding Justice Eugene Pigott of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, dissented out of concern the Judiciary was over-reaching. A bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein, D-Brooklyn, passed the lower house last month. It would statutorily enact many of the reforms advocated by the so-called Feerick Commission, a panel appointed by the chief judge and chaired by John Feerick, former dean of Fordham University Law School. The commission, which Chief Judge Kaye created after bribery scandals involving Brooklyn judges, proposed numerous reforms to improve the judicial selection process and enhance public perception of the judiciary. Among the recommendations was establishment of a statewide judicial screening panel similar to the one proposed in Ms. Weinstein’s bill. However, Mr. DeFrancisco is reluctant to establish a new state bureaucracy and instead put forth a bill that would eliminate the judicial nominating process and clear the way for would-be candidates to run in primaries. Yesterday, Mr. DeFrancisco and Ms. Weinstein remained well apart on their views of judicial election reform. However, in light of Chief Judge Kaye’s clear preference to defer to the Legislature, the lawmakers said they are open to negotiating. “We’re talking,” Mr. DeFrancisco said. “We will work with the process and see if we can come up with something that is mutually agreeable. We’re not there yet, but we are still talking. There’s room for compromise, and that is what we are trying to do.” In any case, Chief Judge Kaye indicated that while she would greatly prefer a legislative remedy, she will eventually move forward on the Administrative Board’s proposal if the Assembly and Senate cannot come to terms. � John Caher can be reached at [email protected].

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