The NY Daily News reported yesterday that New York State judges, long overdue for a salary increase, had at least gotten some money for a change. But it was not the highly anticipated salary increase. Instead, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has simply doubled their $5000 “supplemental allowance.”
NY Daily News reporter Bill Hutchinson found that this allowance can be used for “such expenses as judicial license plates, uncovered medical bills, robe dry cleaning and marriage counseling.” (If there is a common thread here, I hope someone will alert me to it.)
Unfortunately, this news was so unnewsworthy that it was virtually ignored when the Chief Judge first announced it in an October 14th web cast, reports Hutchinson. And it should not be surprising that this story did not become “viral,” as we say on the internet. The real story, which remains simmering on the collective back burner of the law-related news machine, is that our judges have not had a raise in pay in for 11 years. They still make $136,700 per year. That is less than the police officers of numerous state counties make, particularly when overtime is factored in. That is less than most of the attorneys who appear before them make. That is significantly less than my plumber and electrician make. And while I’m happy for my friends on the police forces, and for the guys who keep things working at my house, I am outraged that the professionals who are entrusted with guiding our justice system have had their salaries frozen for so long. Clearly, judges have not even received the relatively modest cost-of-living increases that other employees of the state have, and, if nothing else, this sends out a dangerous message about the priorities of our state politicians.
Could this be the result of bad press? I know there are some judges on the bench who are arguably unworthy of their robes. But most are devoted to what they do, and would not be continuing to report for work every day at this substandard salary if they were not so invested in it. And there are several shining stars who could justifiably bolt the bench for a high-paying job in private practice, who thus far have resisted doing so. But this can’t go on forever. Our luck is about to run out. It is high time to pay our judges a fair wage.