State panel recommends 27 percent pay raise for judges (Updated)

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A state panel today recommended phasing in a 27 percent pay raise for state judges over the next three years, which would give them their first salary increase in 12 years.

Under the state Special Commission on Judicial Pay’s plan, which will formally be released Monday, state Supreme Court judges will have their annual pay bumped up to $160,000 in April 2012, with $7,000 raises to follow in each of the following two years.

That salary would put them in line in 2014 with federal district court judges, who make $174,000 annually. State Supreme Court judges currently earn $136,700.

Other judges in the state courts system, such as county court judges, whose salaries range from $119,800 to $136,700, would see their salaries rise by the same percentage increase over the three years.

The commission approved the proposal by a 4-3 vote in a meeting in New York City today. The recommendations will be law unless the state Legislature decides to overturn the raises.

The new salaries would take effect April 1.

“I think the message we’re trying to send is yes, we care about our state’s judiciary, but there’s a larger world,” said Bill Thompson, former New York City comptroller and chairman of the commission. “It’s a difficult balance where we’re at right now.”

In a law pushed last year by former Gov. David Paterson’s administration, the commission was created to make a formal recommendation on the contentious issue of judicial pay. With appointees from all three branches of government, the panel began its discussions last April.

State judges had long called for a raise, having gone without cost-of-living adjustments since 1999. But Robert Megna, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget director, had urged the commission to use caution, saying that issuing raises of 40 percent or more — as some judicial groups had been calling for — could throw off the state’s precarious finances.

Previously, the state Legislature had to approve of raises for the judiciary, and lawmakers’ raises had been tied to raises for judges. The panel separated that link; lawmakers haven’t had a raise since 1999 either.

The commission will be re-formed in four years.

The seven commission members were split on the formal proposal, with three – Mark Mulholland, Robert Fiske, and Kathryn Wylde – voting against it. Update: Mulholland said the raises didn’t go far enough, while Wylde said the raises were reasonable, but that she was concerned it didn’t send the right message to judges. Fiske said he didn’t support the phased-in approach.

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