New York’s Chief Judge Kaye Finally Brings Suit for Judicial Pay Raises

A year ago last April New York’s Chief Judge Judith Kaye threatened to bring a lawsuit because the judiciary hadn’t had a raise, even for the cost of living, for eight years. Their salaries remained stuck at $136K while first year associates at BigLaw top out over $200K including their bonuses.

Then in July she reversed herself, setting off a furious brawl among the judiciary when she said she would not bring the suit.

Then in December our Chief Judge Hamlet flip-flopped again and said she would bring suit.

Now apparently, a year after saying in a press release that the judiciary will not remain “docile in the face of the shabby treatment,” she is finally pulling the trigger and starting suit.

It is, of course, shameful that the legislature hasn’t acted to fix this problem of underpaying the judiciary. While no one expects them to be on a par with the private sector, one has to recognize that substantially underpaying them will ultimately cause the best of the bench to move into private practice, or to politely decline the opportunity if they do not yet wear the robes.

The suit, long awaited by the judiciary, is being filed today in Supreme Court in Manhattan (Supreme Court being the main trial court, not an appellate court). Of course, since every judge in the courthouse has a vested interest in seeing the case succeed, it remains to be seen who, exactly, will hear this thing.
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And now…moments after posting the above, I am back…here is a copy of the filing…/Kaye-v-Silver.pdf

The suit names Sheldon Silver, head of the Assembly, Joe Bruno, head of the Senate, David Paterson, our newly minted Governor, and, of course, the State of New York.

According to the suit, “no other state or federal judges anywhere in the United States have gone longer without an increase in their compensation — not even a cost of living adjustment.”

While titled “Complaint,” the document doesn’t read like any Complaint you have likely seen before. It looks more like a manifesto of judicial pay raise problems before finally alleging in paragraph 12 that the current situation is unconstitutional as a violation of the separation of powers between the branches of government, with pay so low that judges are held hostage to political whims about which they have no say.

The suit also claims (paragraph 15) that by failing to account for cost of living increases, that judicial salaries have been lowered, in violation of the constitutional mandate that they judicial salaries “shall not be diminished.”

The suit is accompanied by a 12 page Memorandum of Law asking for a prompt trial. Also part of the filing is a seven page letter to Justice Edward Lehner asking for the same relief. What Lehner will do is anyone’s guess since he is part of the class that Kaye has sued on behalf of (see paragraph 19 of the Complaint).

Justice Lehner has been hearing another judicial pay raise case (Larabee v. Spitzer) brought by four other justices: New York City Family Court Judge Susan Larabee, New York City Criminal Court Judge Patricia Nunez, New York City Civil Court Judge Geoffrey Wright and Cattaraugus County Family Court Judge Michael Nenno.

Updates:

  • Senate: Blame It On Shelly (Silver) (Capitol Confidential)
  • Chief Judge Kaye Pulls The Trigger (Simple Justice)
    While framed as if it was really a summons and complaint, I don’t believe that is how it’s meant. This isn’t a complaint of a group that seriously expects to litigate and intends to win.

  • Judge Kaye Sues to Obtain Pay Increase for New York Judges (Sui Generis)
    Judge Kaye has thrown down the gauntlet

  • Breaking the Bank (Judicial Reports)
    The 30-page suit makes three primary claims: that the New York judiciary is entitled to “adequate compensation,” that State judges were unfairly discriminated against by the State Legislature, and that the judicial branch pay raises are unfairly attached to Legislative pay raises.

  • Wachtell and Judicial Ethical Violations in New York’s Judicial Pay Raise Suit? (This blog)
    Yesterday Chief Judge Judith Kaye brought a lawsuit for long sought judicial pay raises on behalf of the New York judiciary. In doing so, some ethical issues now present themselves based on the free legal services offered to the judiciary by Wachtell Lipton, an issue quite apart from the more obvious question of how any judge that is part of the plaintiff’s class can actually hear the case.

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