MANHATTAN (CN) - A New York commission voted 4-3 at a two-hour hearing Monday to bring state judge's salaries in line with the higher pay federal judges earn.
Whether the directive from the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial & Executive Compensation will actually drive wages is another matter, however, since the seven-member panel can only make recommendations to the state Legislature.
"There has been parity," said James Lack, a longtime New York state senator who sits on the commission, of the difference between state and federal judges.
A former Court of Claims judge, Lack added that he saw "no difference" in levels of justice between the levels of federal and state judiciary.
Fran Reiter, a board member and former deputy under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, noted that state judges are "public servants" whose compensations should be viewed as such.
Bringing state judges' salaries in line with the $209,001 that federal judges make is "excessive," she said.
"The judiciary is no different than any other public servant," Lack noted.
Another board member, former Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barry Cozier, noted that judges have title of distinction.
"Frankly I think the judiciary is distinct from other public employees," Cozier said.
Emphasizing that New York City is one of the "top legal centers" with the "largest judiciary" in the country, Cozier said the need to attract top legal minds is paramount.
On the other hand, Cozier noted, federal judges face "unique" limitations in that they cannot derive outside income to maintain impartiality, unlike state judges.
For federal judges, "there are no other means by which they can supplement the judicial income," he noted.
Board member Gary Johnson, executive counsel at Brooklyn's Medgar Evers College, urged the panel to be "very, very careful" about how it proceeds.
Reiter worried about how the state could handle the raises given potential budgetary restraints that might arise in the future.
"Given the fiscal situation of the state, I can't support it," she said.
Reiter also noted that the system is "all out of whack," while touting the benefits of living in New York City. "There are reasons to live in New York and make less than to live in Iowa and make more," she said.
The decision at the end of the hearing led the panel to cancel a second meeting on the topic it had scheduled for Wednesday.
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