Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman today sought to beat back criticism of the spending within the state courts system, saying that the courts’ budget actually cuts operating costs but rises because of higher pension costs and benefits.
“In fact, in the face of steadily increasing caseloads we have operated under strict hiring limitations for several years, and with virtually no new judgeships for much longer,” Lippman said in his annual State of the Judiciary Address.
“We have submitted a Judiciary budget for the coming fiscal year that represents a minimal operating reduction from last year, exclusive of escalating pension and fringe benefit costs. We have 1,000 fewer nonjudicial personnel today than we had just two years ago, including a reduction of over 10% in the courts’ administrative staff.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo scolded the courts in his budget address earlier this month for not doing more to cut costs as he’s ordered a 10 percent reduction in spending within state agencies. The courts, though, operate independently.
And recent articles in the New York Post have shown that Lippman has overseen the construction of expensive apartments in Albany for the state Court of Appeals and spent $8,500 on trips to the Virgin Islands and the Rockies.
Lippman said that closing courts shouldn’t be an option to curb costs, saying, “Surely, we could close courts, or greatly reduce the number of days and hours our courts are open, but at what at cost to our citizenry?”
He also officially announced what he told the New York Times on Monday that he’s seeking a new rule which would assure that “no case will be assigned to a judge where the attorneys or parties in the case contributed $2,500 or more within the previous two years to the judge’s campaign. By this new rule, the Judiciary in New York will be the first in the country to systemically address this problem at its source — determining as a matter of court system policy that judges will not hear matters involving lawyers and parties who have contributed substantial monies to their campaigns.”
He also announced two members of the panel that will determine judicial salaries: Robert Fiske, Jr., a lawyer from Davis Polk & Wardwell, and Kathryn S. Wylde, president the Partnership for New York City.
The panel will look at setting judicial salaries. It was approved last year by the state Legislature and Gov. David Paterson.
Lippman continued to bemoan the fact that judges haven’t had a raise in 13 years.
“While every one of us must be prepared to make sacrifices in this era of tough choices, judges have begun their 13th consecutive year of sacrifice –and that’s just too much based on any objective standard,” he said.
Here’s his full speech:
STATE OF THE JUDICIARY 2011