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Unable to separate the question of their own pay from that of legislative salaries, an unprecedented effort by New York state judges to secure their first pay raise in six years fell short Friday when the Legislature and Governor George E. Pataki closed the session without an agreement. Lawmakers and others familiar with the discussions said the merits of a judicial pay raise were never at issue, as evidenced by the fact that the governor and key committees in both houses of the Legislature agreed that judges are long overdue for a raise. But lawmakers were unwilling to increase judicial compensation without boosting their own — legislators have also gone six years without an increase — and Pataki opposed any raise for legislators without some major concession from lawmakers on unrelated issues. In the end, it was not possible to separate judicial and legislative pay and officials were unable to find the right bargaining chip that could have pulled together a deal. Last week’s lack of action was a major disappointment to the judiciary and the Office of Court Administration, which had mounted an extraordinary campaign to secure a pay raise. Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman led small contingents of judges through the capitol at least once a week throughout most of the session and successfully persuaded several editorial boards to endorse his position. But the political hurdles proved insurmountable — at least for now. There is still hope of resolving the matter later this year if, as anticipated, the Legislature returns to Albany for its usual fall clean-up session. Lippman is already plotting an autumn strategy. “We have very solid support for an increase this year,” a tired but not dispirited Lippman said late Friday afternoon. “We have been told by all the players — the Assembly, the Senate and the executive — that there is total support for judicial pay reform. There has not been one dissenting view as to the rightness of it.” It may be critical for the judiciary to keep up the pressure in the fall. If the matter lingers into next year, and it again proves impossible to raise judicial salaries without also increasing legislative salaries, judges are unlikely to get a raise until the fall of 2006 at the earliest, observers say. All 212 legislative seats are up for election next year and, if past history is any indication, there is virtually no chance legislators would vote to increase their own pay with an election looming. The issue of judicial pay began early this year when Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye proposed an increase in her State of the Judiciary address. That was followed by an Office of Court Administration proposal that would have increased the pay of all constitutional and statutory judges, linking their pay to that of federal jurists so they would be assured of regular cost-of-living increases and establishing a degree of pay parity among judges of similar courts. Now, the pay of county-level judges, such as Family Court judges and surrogates, varies widely. OCA’s proposal sought to equalize those salaries so judges doing the same work in different counties would receive essentially the same compensation. Two key legislative bodies — the judiciary committees in both the Senate and Assembly — heartily endorsed OCA’s bill, although several members were insistent that lawmakers should receive a raise as well. Pataki then came out with his own proposal, which would have raised salaries of trial judges by about 19 percent. The governor, however, rejected any sort of cost-of-living indexing, ignored the parity issue and eliminated Housing Court judges from the equation. In the final hours of the session, the judicial pay issue remained on the table and Lippman continued working the legislature into the early morning hours of Friday. However, it had become apparent hours earlier not only that judicial pay had to be linked to legislative pay, but that legislative pay had to be linked to some other big-ticket item desired by Pataki. The judiciary had no negotiating power and, unable to succeed only on the merits of its own proposal, could do nothing to foster agreement between the political branches. LOOKING AHEAD Still, Lippman remains optimistic about the fall. “Certainly, the judiciary remains united, persistent and focused on our goals,” he said. “I think we are very much in the game and are still in a good position to achieve our goal in this calendar year.” Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Helene E. Weinstein, D-Brooklyn, said it is definitely possible to revisit the judicial pay issue later in the year. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John A. DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, has also articulated a commitment to increasing judicial salaries. Pataki has also identified judicial pay as a priority.

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