Judges of NY’s Top Court Dock Their Own Benefits

MANHATTAN (CN) – Throwing self-interest to the wind, a seven-judge panel of New York’s highest court unanimously agreed that the state had the right to reduce contributions to judicial insurance plans.

“We conclude the state’s contribution is not judicial compensation protected from direct diminution by the compensation clause, and the reductions in contributions do not have the effect of singling out the judiciary for disadvantageous treatment,” the panel wrote in a per curiam opinion on Tuesday.

The New York Court of Appeals decision overturns two other rulings in favor of 13 sitting and retired state jurists who brought the original lawsuit in the wake of the post-recession belt-tightening by Albany lawmakers.

The judges who brought the suit claimed the state’s reduction in insurance contributions violated the New York Constitution, which holds that “the compensation of a judge … or of a retired judge … shall be established by law and shall not be diminished during the term of office for which he or she was elected or appointed.”

The trial court declared the reductions unconstitutional, in a decision affirmed by the state’s Appellate Division, First Department.

Bucking that trend, the Court of Appeals saw no state constitutional violation in the reduction.

“The primary goal of the compensation clause — protecting the independence of the judiciary — is not implicated when the state contributes a smaller percentage towards all employees’ health care premiums,” the 17-page opinion states. “A contribution to health care premiums, which varies from year to year, is not compensation within the context of the compensation clause.”

Justice Mark Dillon, sitting by designation from Appellate Division, Second Department, wrote a concurring opinion noting that the authors of the New York Constitution could not have conceived of the contemporary U.S. insurance system.

“State-sponsored health care coverage was not specifically mentioned in the Constitution of 1894 or its 1938 successor,” Dillon wrote in a 21-page concurrence. “The issue has ‘called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of [constitutional] begetters.’”

Judge Rowan Wilson wrote separately to add that justices should be treated the same as any other party.

“The fact that the plaintiffs here are Supreme Court Justices should not entitle them to any laxer pleading standard than we afford other litigants,” he wrote.

An attorney for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email request for comment.

%d bloggers like this: