Policy Statement on Judicial Salaries

by Victor A. Kovner, Chair of the Committee for Modern Courts on Judicial Salaries

The Committee for Modern Courts welcomed Governor Eliot Spitzer’s inclusion of more than $111 million in his executive budget to provide all state judges with a raise in salary retroactive to April 1, 2005. Increased judicial compensation for New York State’s judges has been advocated by Modern Courts for many years.

Victor A. Kovner, Chair of the Committee for Modern Courts said, “We are encouraged that Governor Spitzer has taken this initiative, and that Senator DeFrancisco and Assemblywoman Weinstein, the respective Chairs of the Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committees, have expressed support for this needed budget item.”

Modern Courts has long believed that insufficient compensation may dissuade our most talented and committed lawyers from becoming judges. For most judges, the call to public service, rather than the salary, is the motivating factor in seeking judicial office. But the judiciary and, perhaps more importantly, the public are ill-served by the failure to adjust judicial compensation more than twice in 19 years.

Mr. Kovner said, “The inclusion of funds for increased judicial compensation in the Governor’s budget provides an opportunity to break the legislative log jam that for far too long has tied judicial salary increases to legislative pay raises.”

In recent years, Modern Courts has proposed, not only an increase in judicial compensation, but has vigorously supported Chief Judge Kaye’s proposal to create an objective mechanism which would separate judicial compensation from legislative compensation.

“Linking the salaries of State Supreme Court justices to those of federal district judges is entirely appropriate, given the work load New York’s major trial court justices,” said Mr. Kovner. “In addition, the budget proposal will provide increased compensation to all the other judges in the state, including Housing Court judges who were previously excluded, according to a formula that ties their salaries to those of Supreme Court justices.”

Modern Courts will continue to advocate for the establishment of a Quadrennial Commission as a means by which judicial compensation can be determined in the future. Such a system ensures that New York’s judiciary will enjoy the independence and respect it deserves.

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