Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Court Rules Failure to Increase Judicial Salaries Violates State Constitution

The Appellate Division, First Department, ruled unanimously today that the refusal of the state legislature to increase judicial salaries since 1999 violates the separation of powers under the State Constitution.

In Larabee v. Governor of the State of New York the Court concludes that the legislative practice of "linkage'--judicial salaries are increased only if legislators' salaries are increased--undermines the independence of the judiciary by making judges' salaries wholly dependent on political considerations extraneous to the question of what a judge's salary should be. Judicial compensation has become a "tactical weapon" in political conflicts between the Governor and the Legislature. "When judicial compensation becomes politicized, a line has been crossed in contravention of the warnings long articulated in what has become a deeply rooted constitutional jurisprudence. The basic tenet of the separation of powers doctrine, to promote and maintain the independence and stability of each branch of government, has been violated." 

The ruling affirms an order of Supreme Court, New York County, which directed the Legislature to proceed in good faith, within 90 days, to adjust judicial compensation to reflect the increased cost of living since 1998.

The decision rejects the conclusion of the Appellate Division, Third Department, that the separation of powers has not been violated by "linkage."  Maron v. Silver, 58 A.D.3d 102. In the view of the Third Department there is no valid separation-of-powers claim because there is no proof that the judicial branch has actually been harmed by the failure to increase judges' salaries, and no claim that the failure to increase judges' salaries is designed to undercut the autonomy of the judicial branch. It is simply the result of the political process. The conflict ultimately will be resolved by the Court of Appeals.  

1 comment:

  1. Norman,

    Is not the so-called "linkage" an informal understanding? Assuming that this is so, would not this preclude a recovery for the judges?

    Also, even if the Court of Appeals were to rule that there were a "linkage" and that there was no separation of powers, where do we go from there? Is not it still up to the Legislature to legislate salaries?

    I think that the Court of Appeals will be constrained to dismiss the various salary suits. What do you think?

    Mark Seitelman