City Bar Recommends $195,000+ for State Supreme Court Justice Salaries; Urges Proportionate Raises for Other State Judges

In a report to the New York State Judicial Compensation Commission, the New York City Bar Association urges that salaries for Justices of the Supreme Court of New York State be increased to no less than $195,000, and that other New York State Court Judges receive a proportionate increase as well. The current salary for New York State Supreme Court Justices has been frozen at $136,700 for a dozen years. “Indeed, we believe there is ample justification for a salary level in excess of $200,000,” states the report, as raising the salary to $195,000 would adjust for cost of living but would not reflect the judges’ loss of purchasing power—estimated at $330,000—since 1999, the growth in the disparity between judicial salaries and legal compensation levels in the private sector, and the disparity between salaries of New York judges and judges in other states. “If New York’s judicial salaries were even ranked at the median level of judges salaries among the states, the Supreme Court Justice salary would be $220,000,” the report states. The City Bar also recommends that the salary increase not be phased in but rather take effect April 1, 2012, and that salaries further be adjusted in each of the next three years to reflect changes in the cost of living. Currently, New York’s judicial salaries are ranked 46th in the country when measured by the cost of living, according to the National Center for State Courts, and even the proposed increase to $195,000 would still lag behind the salaries paid in the five next largest metropolitan areas in the United States. Citing a July 5th New York Times article, the report states that New York State judges are leaving the bench “at an alarming and increased rate—nearly one in ten judges as of last year,” at a time when judges’ workloads are at an all-time high, with over a million more matters filed in 2009 than in 1999, an increase of 28%. “With senior associates in large New York firms earning over $100,000 more than judges, the grass is indeed greener in the private sector,” the report states. “We need judges, faced with these overwhelming workloads, to have the skill, patience and efficiency to resolve the disputes that are brought to them – a flow over which they have no control – and to perform at a consistently high level. In many criminal, family, housing and debt matters, judicial decisions will be life-changing.” Finally, the report makes the case that what’s good for New York’s judges in this instance is good for New York. “Furthermore, the loss of talented judges, and the difficulty of recruiting judges broadly from New York’s legal community, is bound to hurt not only the quality of justice but the sterling reputation of New York’s courts. Part of the reason New York is such a vibrant commercial center is the comfort of those conducting business in New York that there is a high-quality forum to resolve disputes. To the extent we jeopardize that quality, we make other venues more attractive for business dealings. This is a potential drain on an economy that is already struggling to recover from the most serious recession in decades. The investment in judicial salaries, to maintain the confidence of all parties that they can receive fair and effective justice in New York, is an investment in New York’s future.” The report may be read here.