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Judicial pay raise expected to pass

iStock image used with permission.

ALBANY — The first salary increases for New York judges in 13 years appear headed for approval in the upcoming state budget, quietly ending one of Albany’s long political dramas that recurred annually, then wound through the courts after frustrated jurists sued.

State Sen. Stephen Saland and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who co-chair the budget conference committee on public protection, said Wednesday the judiciary’s spending proposal is mainly intact, including the first raises for 1,300 judges since 1999.

“As far as I’m aware, it hasn’t been raised as an issue,” Saland said. Some other “nuances” in the 2012-2013 spending plan are being examined, he said.

Lentol agreed the raises are safe. The new fiscal year starts April 1.

State Supreme Court justices in counties statewide are paid $136,700 a year. A judicial compensation commission voted to increase those annual salaries to $160,000 next year, with proportionate increases for other judges. The proposed $2.3 billion judicial budget has $27.7 million for those raises, according to court officials.

In 2009, with raises languishing, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman doubled expense allowances to $10,000 for state judges. Most took it as a taxable lump sum.

In lawsuits, judges argued that their pay rates were diminished by inflation, noting that first-year associates at some law firms were making more than they do.

In 2010, New York’s highest court concluded that the “judicial pay crisis,” with raises stalled since they were tied to lawmakers’ pay or unrelated policy initiatives, violated the doctrine of three separate but equal branches of government, on which the state and nation were founded. The Court of Appeals told lawmakers they should consider raises for the state’s judges but stopped short of ordering it.

The Legislature then voted to establish the seven-member Special Commission on Judicial Compensation, with appointees from the governor, chief judge, Senate and Assembly. In 2011, the panel recommended three years of salary increases, starting in 2012. For Supreme Court justices, salaries would rise to $167,000 in 2013 and $174,000 in 2014.

Top pay, for the chief judge, would rise to $198,600 in 2014.

Legislators haven’t given themselves an across-the-board raise in more than a decade. Considered a part-time body, their base pay is $79,500.

Spokesmen for the Assembly’s Democratic majority and the Senate majority Republicans said Wednesday that neither of the chambers’ budget proposals calls for legislative raises.