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2007-12-13 / From The Mayor...

From The Mayor's Desk ...

State Judges Deserve Raises

State legislators are considering coming back to Albany this month for a special session. And if they do, one of their first orders of business should be to do something that just about everyone agrees is vitally necessary: enact long overdue judicial pay raises. The last time judges in this State received a raise was in 1999. Since then, not only has inflation eaten away at the value of their salaries, but, salaries for others in the judiciary - such as clerks and court officers - have increased more than 33%.

Judges play a fundamental role in our city. They safeguard us from criminals, stabilize families broken apart by domestic violence, and protect children who have been abused or neglected. It's critically important to know that the people we trust to make these decisions are the best and the brightest. But in order to attract the best and the brightest, we need to pay a salary that is competitive with what federal judges earn - and right now, we're not doing that.

Today, even the lowest-ranking federal judge earns more than the highest-ranking state judge. And when you factor in the cost-of-living, New York State judges are paid less than judges in all but one other state - and no state has gone as long as we have without giving their judges a raise. In New York City, which prides itself as being one of the legal capitals of the world, this is completely unacceptable.

Appointing a highly-qualified and diverse group of judges is one of the most important things a mayor does. In fact, last week, I spent more than four hours interviewing judicial candidates to determine which individuals would be the best judges for New York City - but who knows how many excellent candidates may not have applied because the salary isn't competitive.

The most frustrating part of the debate over judicial salaries is that it isn't even a debate. Virtually everyone - in both parties - agrees that we need to pay our judges more. So why hasn't it happened? In a courtroom, each case must be weighed on its own merits, and the facts of each case must be carefully considered. But in the political arena, too often good legislation gets held hostage to horse-trading. The result is that even when everyone agrees, nothing gets done!

Unlike legislators who can earn outside income from law firms and other businesses, judges can't accept outside work. Judges work for the public full-time, all year round. For that they deserve not only our respect, but also fair and just compensation. Our state legislators have done a lot of good work this year. They passed a number of bills that are moving New York City forward, but there's still a lot of unfinished business - including judicial raises. We hope that when our leaders return to Albany, they'll do what's right for our judges and for all New Yorkers.

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