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ALBANY � Governor Eliot Spitzer yesterday included more than $111 million in his executive budget to provide all state judges with a pay raise retroactive to April 1, 2005. The bold and apparently unprecedented initiative of including a judicial pay increase in an executive budget would result in an average salary hike of about 25 percent for the judges, who have not had so much as a cost-of-living increase in eight years. Under the proposal, which mirrors one first advanced by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, the salaries of all judges � including Housing Court judges, who were excluded under a Pataki administration plan � would see a pay hike of roughly 23 percent as of April. The remaining 2 percent would kick in if Congress approves a cost-of-living increase for federal judges. In his budget commentary, the governor noted that the cost of living has increased more than 20 percent as the salaries of judges have remained stagnant. Spitzer said a pay raise is warranted “as a matter of fairness to judges and their families and as a matter of public policy.” The pay structure would, for now, link the salaries of state Supreme Court justices to those of federal district judges, while tying the salaries of the other state judges to those of Supreme Court justices. If Congress approves the next scheduled cost-of-living increase for federal judges, the salaries of New York’s judges would be calculated as follows on April 1: • Supreme Court justices would receive $168,000, the same as federal district judges. • Family Court, County Court and Surrogate’s Court judges would receive 95 percent of a Supreme Court justice’s salary. • New York City Civil and Criminal Court judges and Long Island District Court judges would receive 93 percent of a justice’s salary. • City Court judges upstate would receive 90 percent of a Supreme Court justice’s salary. • New York City Housing Court judges would be paid 95 percent of a Civil Court judge’s pay. • The chief judge of the Court of Appeals would receive 114.1 percent of a Supreme Court justice’s salary. Associate judges of the Court of Appeals would make 10 percent more than their colleagues on the trial bench. Appellate Division presiding justices would be paid 7.9 percent more than Supreme Court justices, and associate appellate justices would receive 5.3 percent more. By including funds for a judicial pay hike in his budget, Spitzer dramatically alters the political landscape that for years has stood in the way of a judicial pay increase. Over the past eight years, lawmakers have passively denied judges a pay raise, partially because they traditionally give the judges an increase only as political cover when they raise their own pay. Lawmakers have gone without a raise just as long as the judges and last year were looking for a politically palatable way to increase their pay. But former Governor George E. Pataki was unwilling to sign off on legislative pay hikes, and legislators lacked the will to risk a politically popular veto or politically devastating override – especially at a time when the Legislature is portrayed in the media and by civil groups as dysfunctional and unaccountable, characterizations punctuated by the fact that several of its members have been indicted, accused of ethics violations or otherwise implicated in wrongdoing. Lawmakers must now take action one way or the other. They can deny judges a raise only by affirmatively deleting the money from the 2007-2008 executive budget, a move that would ignite a virtual if not literal rebellion in the judiciary. “I think the Legislature would be hard pressed not to accept that part of the governor’s budget because the pay raises are clearly justified, and should have been done last year or the year before,” said Senator John A. DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Helene E. Weinstein, D-Brooklyn, who has also strongly supported the judges, said it is a “very good sign” that the pay raise funds are included in the budget. “You just can’t expect people to work in public service, which is what judges do, for that salary when you look in the Law Journal and see what first-year associates are paid,” Weinstein said. Safety Valve Spitzer’s initiative seemingly de-links judicial and legislative salaries, making it politically possible to raise one without immediately changing the other. However, it also offers a safety valve. Spitzer yesterday said he supports a proposal by Chief Judge Kaye in which the salaries of judges, lawmakers and the executive staff would be evaluated by a non-partisan panel to ensure they kept pace with inflation and the cost of living. If that plan is adopted � and many lawmakers support it � legislators could grant judges their raise now and set in place a mechanism to ensure that their own compensation is increased later. Legislators cannot raise their own pay so a legislative pay raise could not take effect until the next Legislature takes office in 2009. “New York State . . . needs a better way of determining the compensation of judges and other public officials on a continuing basis,” Spitzer said in his written budget message. “The Judiciary has submitted a proposal for a permanent mechanism for the regular salary review of officials in all three branches of government. The Legislature will be urged to enact this reform in the upcoming session.” At a press conference, Spitzer said reasonable judicial compensation is critical to attracting candidates for the Third Branch. “I have said for quite some time that the judges in the state of New York deserve a pay raise, they deserve to be paid a sufficient sum not only so we can persuade lawyers in the private sector to join the ranks of our judiciary, but also to compensate those who are on the bench now for the hard work they do,” Spitzer said. “The pay has to be raised. They deserve it.” ‘Strong Support’ Officials yesterday could not recall another occasion when a governor had made a judicial branch proposal an executive branch initiative. “We are thrilled by the governor’s strong support of a retroactive pay increase for the judiciary, and particularly enthused by the unprecedented step of including the judicial pay increase in the executive budget,” said Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman. “With this, the governor has . . . made a judicial pay increase a matter of the highest priority for the executive branch.” DeFrancisco said it is “unseemly” for judges to have to beg or lobby the Legislature for raises, adding that he will enthusiastically support legislation to establish a structure for regular cost-of-living increases. Some judges, disgusted and demoralized after having gone without a pay hike for eight years, have said they will recuse themselves from cases where the firm has a partner or even an of counsel relationship with a legislator under the theory that to preside over a matter involving a lawyer/legislator would create a perception of a conflict of interest. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman said judges are “desperate” for a pay raise. “For those of us who have to live on our salary, especially if we are supporting children, it has become impossible, without heavy borrowing,” she said. “The fact is we are earning less than $50 an hour, which is pathetic. At the same time corporate law firms are billing as much as $800 an hour, and are starting their first-year associates at $160,000 plus bonuses.” Justice Goodman said the financial sacrifice has caused her to “re-think the commitment I long ago made to public service.” “I wanted to be a judge, but never anticipated the debt it would put me in, and the downward spiral of my lifestyle,” she said. New York State Bar Association President Mark H. Alcott of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison applauded the governor. “An independent, well-qualified judiciary needs to be compensated in a fair, consistent manner that is as free from political interference as possible, and the executive budget that the governor delivered clearly demonstrates that he shares this belief,” Alcott said. John Caher can be reached at [email protected].

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