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ALBANY, N.Y. � General counsel at 37 corporations have sent New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and state legislative leaders a letter decrying elected officials’ failure “to provide minimally adequate compensation for judges.” The chief legal officers urged, “in the strongest possible way,” that the officials enact a pay raise for judges and create an ongoing commission to set future judicial salary adjustments. The corporate counsel work both for New York-based businesses and for some of the largest national companies doing business in New York. Among the companies represented are General Electric Co., the Ford Motor Co., Pepsi Co., Intel Corp., Dow Chemical Co., Pfizer Inc., Merck & Co. and Colgate Palmolive Co. Judicial administrators have been courting the business leaders as part of their campaign to persuade government officials to approve a raise before the legislators end their session in a few weeks. The letter is the first indication that the effort may be bearing some fruit. Warnings of deterioration In addition to the letter by the general counsel, a breakfast has been scheduled for June 12 at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York to be attended by representatives of the Partnership for New York City and the Business Council of New York State. The groups will endorse the pay raise and their corporate members will discuss why the business community should be out front in backing an independent judiciary. The recent letter warned state leaders that the quality of the judiciary in New York will deteriorate if state judges, who have not received a raise in more than eight years, do not receive “a significant adjustment” in their pay. “With stagnating compensation, the harsh reality is that few gifted lawyers will seek to become judges and seasoned judges will be forced to leave the bench,” the general counsel wrote. “Ultimately, New York’s business community, and all New Yorkers, will suffer.” The “unprecedented crisis” puts the “continuing economic vitality of New York” at risk, they insisted. “A state’s legal climate, including the quality of its judges, can have a significant impact on a corporation’s decisions about where to do business,” the letter said. “As the heart of the international business and financial community, New York must have judges with the background and ability to handle complex commercial litigation in a just and efficient manner.” Thanks to the creation of a commercial division in the supreme court system, the state’s trial level, New York courts “have become a forum of choice for business,” the corporate counsel wrote. “We need to maintain that standard,” they wrote. The counsel also urged the governor and legislative leaders to create a commission, recommended by New York Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, to make regular pay adjustments in the future for judges. Supporters say a commission would take the question of judicial salary levels out of the “political arena,” where the counsel noted that a pay-raise bill is languishing again despite many agreeing that judges deserve more money. The commission would also set raises for legislators. Spitzer has balked at a legislative pay raise, saying lawmakers have not done enough on ethics reform, including passage of new campaign finance limits, to warrant a pay increase. Legislators, who make a base of $79,500 a year, also have not received a pay raise in more than eight years. The state Senate has approved legislation providing for the commission and pay increases for judges, but not by a sufficient margin to override Spitzer’s promised veto. The Assembly, the lower legislative house, has yet to act on the legislation passed by the Senate.

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