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Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye told a group of high-level business leaders yesterday that the court system “is preparing for full-scale litigation” against the state in the event that the Legislature fails to enact a pay raise for judges. “That would be a dark day in state history,” she added, as the pay raise remained stalled in Albany, a little more than a week before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn. Chief Judge Kaye was speaking to about 57 business leaders attending a breakfast meeting yesterday at the New York City Bar Association. “In these critical days in Albany, we need your support,” she said. The group also heard a plea from Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, a group of up to 400 executives, to urge political leaders in Albany to enact a pay raise before the scheduled end of the legislative session on June 21. Even though the conversation about a judicial pay raise is not “on the merits,” there is “nothing harder to accomplish” because the governor and the two legislative leaders are coming at the issue from different positions, Ms. Wylde said. Unless one of the leaders makes resolving the impasse “a top priority for this term, it is not going to happen.” Michael Fricklas, the general counsel of Viacom, David Westin, president of ABC News, and Tim Zagat, co-chairman of Zagat Survey also addressed the group. Among the other business leaders in attendance were Larry Silverstein, president of Silverstein Properties; Richard Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress; Michael Chae, senior managing director of the Blackstone Group; William Rudin, president of Rudin Management; Christine Cumming, first vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; and Robert Palatnick, managing director of the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. New York’s judges have gone more than eight years without raises, and, when cost of living is factored in, their pay ranks 48th in the nation ( NYLJ, May 30). Judge Kaye made an impassioned plea for a raise that would make state judges’ salaries comparable to those paid federal judges. New York must have a pay raise, Judge Kaye said, to insure that the state has “an absolutely first rate court system . . . We need it anddeserve it for the protection and promotion of business interests in this financial and commercial capital of the world.” A raise for judges has been caught between state legislator’s demands for a raise for themselves and Governor Eliot Spitzer’s refusal to accede to a legislative pay raise without campaign finance reform. “We have to break that ugly deadlock, that ugly squeeze,” Judge Kaye said. As of yesterday, there had been no movement in Albany. Chief Judge Kaye referred to warnings from the nation’s founders that to maintain judicial independence, compensation always must be “adequate” and never “diminished” during a judge’s term of service. She said that court officials have “ceaselessly implored the leaders in government every way we can.” A close observer of the court system said three law firms are preparing a possible lawsuit against the governor and the Legislature. David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the court system, confirmed that two of the three firms working as volunteers are Proskauer Rose and Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler. Reputation to Maintain In remarks made at the breakfast, Mr. Fricklas, Viacom’s general counsel, said that for years the business community “had taken for granted” that New York courts were “the best courts for dealing with business disputes” and had “routinely” written contracts making New York the forum for disputes arising throughout the nation. But he added, with the pressures being created by the lack of a raise, “I can’t believe New York can maintain in the long term” the reputation that its judges can be depended up on deliver “predictable and high-quality decisions.” The failure to enact a raise, said Mr. Westin, the president of ABC News, will erode New York judiciary’s reputation as being “head and shoulders above other states.” New York has been an important state for journalists, Mr. Westin added, because its judges are viewed providing “a fair application” of the state’s Shield Law. A total of 98 persons, including 23 judges, attended the session. - Daniel Wise can be reached at [email protected].

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