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ALBANY – Governor Eliot Spitzer said Friday the budget agreement he has negotiated with the state Legislature does not contain money for the judicial pay raises he proposed in January, nor allows for the creation of a commission proposed by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye to set future judicial salary increases. “There is no judicial pay raise,” Mr. Spitzer told reporters as he gave more details about what is in the $121 billion budget for fiscal year 2007-08. “I wish there were.” Mr. Spitzer said the $121 million in spending that he proposed was taken out of the budget by the Legislature. Of that amount, $111 million had been appropriated for judicial pay raises retroactive to April 1, 2005 and going forward. That $111 million has been applied to other spending purposes under the agreement Mr. Spitzer made with the chief legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Rensselaer. The governor also said the commission that Chief Judge Kaye proposed be established to set future salary increases would not be provided for in the budget. The apparent collapse of the effort to gain pay hikes this year triggered angry reaction among the state’s judges. Legislative leaders said Friday that they were continuing to negotiate final pieces of the budget, which they are attempting to adopt by, or close to, the start of the state’s next fiscal year Sunday morning. Agreements on pay-raise bills have often emerged at the 11th hour in the Legislature during the concluding negotiations between legislators and the governor. Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman, who has been lobbying the governor and the Legislature for months over the pay raises and the commission, said he was “extremely disappointed” by Mr. Spitzer’s comments. “The only thing we can do is to continue every effort to make this possible, to make a pay raise happen now,” he said. “We will continue that.” But Judge Lippman (See Profile) said if the pay raise and the commission remain out of the final budget adopted by the Legislature, it will be an injustice to the state’s judiciary. “It could not be a more critical issue for the judiciary,” he said. “This is a judiciary that deserves over and over again a pay raise equal to the critical responsibilities that we have in our tripartite system of government. It is indefensible. It is something that we cannot accept as a co-equal branch of government.” Judge Lippman declined to discuss the possible recourse available to the judiciary if it is ultimately denied a pay raise. View From Legislature Mr. Silver said Friday that state judges “absolutely” deserve a pay raise. But he said his members “were not prepared to deal” with a judicial pay-raise bill without the salary-increase commission also being created. “There were no votes for it,” he said. Mr. Bruno blamed Mr. Spitzer for balking at creating the pay-raise commission and said he was “amazed” that the governor would ignore the recommendation from Chief Judge Kaye, whom Mr. Spitzer just reappointed to the state’s top judicial post. Mr. Bruno said the Senate was still prepared to pass the judicial pay raise legislation if the commission bill accompanied it. The commission, as envisioned by the chief judge, would also set future pay increases for the members of the Legislature and top-ranking members of the executive branch. Chief Judge Kaye said the first “quadrennial commission” should be established this year and prescribe annual pay increases for officials in all three branches of government for the next four years. The next commission would be established in 2011, under the chief judge’s plan. The commission would have the power to set salaries for the state comptroller and attorney general, but not for the governor and lieutenant governor. Though Mr. Spitzer endorsed the idea of the salary-setting commission in concept, he had begun to oppose it during the tense negotiations with Mr. Silver and Mr. Bruno, said state Senator Dale Volker, R-Erie, chairman of the Senate’s codes committee. Many members of the Legislature, in turn, were balking at approving a judicial pay raise without the establishment of the commission, said officials familiar with the negotiations. At a legislative conference committee meeting on Thursday, several legislators said the commission must be established at the same time a pay raise was approved for the judiciary – ostensibly to prevent the indignity of judges having to return repeatedly to plead their case for further raises. “We’ve taken this branch of government [the judiciary] and put them in a precarious position,” said Senator Vincent Leibell, R-Putnam. “Blame the Legislature,” Mr. Spitzer said Friday when asked why the budget could not still include money for the judicial pay raises without establishment of a salary commission. Neither judges nor the legislators have had a salary increase for more than eight years. Mr. Spitzer’s proposed budget for 2007-08, released Jan. 31, 2007, advocated pay raises of nearly 25 percent for judges. The proposal mirrored one from Chief Judge Kaye. The plan called for Supreme Court judges’ salaries to be linked to federal district judges, who are now paid $168,000 a year. Other judges in the state court system would be paid according to a percentage of the new, higher Supreme Court justice salary levels. Family Court, County Court and Surrogate’s Court judges, for instance, would receive 95 percent of a Supreme Court justice’s salary. New York City Civil and Criminal Court judges would receive 93 percent of a Supreme Court justice’s salary. Judges React The announcement that pay raises were not in the budget prompted cries of outrage for judges around the state on Friday. Nassau County Justice Joseph A. DeMaro (See Profile), one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to compel a raise, sent an e-mail to judges throughout the state telling them that they should “re-check the obituary – you died in the last few days” if “you are not angry enough” to get off cases where legislators’ law firms appear. A number of judges had been refusing to hear cases where legislators’ law firms appeared before them, citing an inability to be impartial because of outrage over the Legislature’s failure to raise judicial salaries (NYLJ, March 9). Those protests had prompted Judge Lippman to request a ruling from the court system’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics. On Feb. 22, the committee issued an opinion concluding that recusals, based solely on the Legislature’s inaction on the pay issue, would be unethical. Justice DeMaro called on Chief Judge Kaye and Judge Lipmann to repudiate the ethics opinion, and asked them to bring the court system into the judges’ lawsuit as the lead plaintiff as an expression of “outrage at the conduct of the Legislature and the governor.” Justice Stanley Sklar (See Profile), who heads the Manhattan Supreme Court’s board of judges, said judges are “extraordinarily upset, in despair and even angry over the failure to secure simple justice for themselves – namely a pay raise after waiting eight years.” The failure to achieve a pay hike makes it all the more disappointing, he added, because hopes were raised when the governor included a salary increase and two years of retroactivity in the executive budget. Judge Kaye in an e-mail sent to judges throughout the state Friday held out hope that the situation could be turned around despite “major hurdles to overcome in a short time frame.” “We are dealing with a very fluid state of affairs, which is not necessarily as defined as some press reports suggest,” she wrote. “We are in constant contact with the Governor, the Speaker and the Majority Leader to convey the absolutely critical urgency of this situation,” she added. Marcia Steinhardt, president of the Association of Supreme Court Justices of the State of New York, likewise was holding out hope that the situation would be turned around. “It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” she said. “They haven’t signed the budget yet.” “Obviously, there are problems,” she added, but Chief Judge Kaye and Judge Lippman are working “as best – and as fast – as they can to resolve them.” - Joel Stashenko can be reached at [email protected]. Daniel Wise can be reached at [email protected].

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