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Benchmarks: Journal of the New York State Unified Court System

Winter 2006

Judicial Pay Increase Tops State of the Judiciary Agenda

THE PRESSING NEED FOR A JUDICIAL SALARY increase was the lead item in Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye's 13th State of the Judiciary address Feb. 6. In the past seven years, every state but New York has raised judicial salaries to address inflation, and New York judges have had only two increases in the past 18 years.

"'New York's system for determining compensation for its public officials needs reform,"' said Judge Kaye."'Our absolute

 

Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye receives applause at State of the Judiciary
Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye receives applause at
State of the Judiciary.
PHOTO: COLLEEN BRESCIA

top priority during this legislative session must be a judicial pay increase. Today, I announce that the judiciary is submitting a proposal to establish a permanent mechanism for the regular salary review of officials in all three branches of government."'

Under the proposal, as in last year's attempt to secure a judicial pay increase, judges would receive an immediate increase, including an adjustment to re-establish parity for Supreme Court justices with federal District Court judges, retroactive to April 1, 2005. What's new about this year's legislative proposal, however, is that it provides a mechanism for annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for all three branches of government beginning April 1, 2007. That mechanism would be a 13-member temporary commission, established every four years and dissolved upon issuance of its report, whose sole task would be to study relevant economic data and determine annual COLAs for judges, legislators and senior executive branch officials for a four-year period. The COLAs would take effect April 1 of each year barring legislative action to modify or suspend them. Members of the Quadrennial Commission on Executive, Legislative and Judicial Compensation would be appointed by the governor, legislative leaders and the chief judge; most would be members of the general public. Adoption of such a proposal would promote public confidence in the process — and its results — as well as enable highly qualified candidates to seek and remain in public sector positions.

Reviewing the accomplishments of the past year and previewing this year's initiatives, Judge Kaye proclaimed New York's judiciary in good standing. She said she would commit the remaining year of her 14-year term to various pursuits, including judicial selection reform, increased access to justice, a new court-restructuring approach and public confidence in the courts.

The goals of solid performance and sound innovation have been the guideposts of the past 13 years, and they will continue to motivate us in the year ahead.

On the subject of judicial selection reform, Judge Kaye announced the release of the latest Feerick Commission report, which focuses on the nominating convention process for state Supreme Court justices. She also announced recent Court of Appeals approval of rules establishing independent judicial qualification commissions in each judicial district, based on earlier Feerick report recommendations. These commissions will evaluate qualifications of candidates for all elective judicial office and issue public findings. The court approved other rules relating to judicial campaign conduct (see related story).

Among other reports released were the long-awaited report from the Matrimonial Commission, which calls for substantial changes — administrative and statutory — in how divorcerelated matters are handled in the courts (see story, p. 3), and the report of the Commission to Examine Solo and Small Firm Practice, which makes numerous recommendations to better meet the needs of such practitioners (see story, p. 3). The Chief Judge's remarks also touched on the interim finding of the Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services that the existing "'patchwork"' approach to providing such services should be replaced with a coherent statewide system. A final report is due this spring (see story, p. 2).

Among many initiatives relating to children, Judge Kaye announced a new Office of Family Services, headed by former Second Department Appellate Division Justice and Matrimonial Commission chair Sondra Miller. The office will serve as a think tank to develop best practices as well as a source of scholarship and research. The Chief Judge highlighted collaborative achievements with governmental partners and Family Court stakeholders, such as last year's permanency legislation and efforts to improve foster care. She announced the opening of an office for Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) within the courts' ADR unit, along with the availability of court system grants, to help expand CASA to more counties.

Judge Kaye gave special mention to two 10-year successes — the Commercial Division, now in nine locations, and the Center for Court Innovation, the courts' independent research and development arm, which develops and supports the state's problem- solving courts.

As always, the Chief Judge's annual address stressed the need to simplify the state's "'archaic"' court structure. Noting that this year "'marks a full century since Dean Roscoe Pound's historic speech to the American Bar Association calling for states to unify their trial courts for the sake of efficiency and substantive justice,"' Judge Kaye observed that New York still has a complicated, overlapping system of 11 trial courts, notwithstanding operational measures taken to simplify the system. Taking a fresh approach, the Chief Judge announced she will form a Special Commission on the Future of the New York State Courts, charged with proposing a streamlined system.

"'The goals of solid performance and sound innovation have been the guideposts of the past 13 years, and they will continue to motivate us in the year ahead,"' said Judge Kaye.

The full text of the address and the reports mentioned in this article are available at: www.nycourts.gov/reports.

Winter 2006 PDF Format
HTML Version:

State of the Judiciary Judicial Elections Report Summary Jury Trials Indigent Defense Services Multi-Hat Judge Matrimonial Commission Solo & Small Firm Practice Office of Self-Represented National Adoption Day Court Reporters Listening Conference Construction Update Historic Courthouses and Trials Did You Know? Judicial Institute Calendar UCS Katrina Fund Update Black History Month

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Web page updated: September 1, 2006 - www.NYCOURTS.gov