No Retroactive Earnings for New York Judges

     MANHATTAN (CN) — Even though New York had unconstitutionally tied pay hikes for its judges to unrelated matters, current and former jurists have no right to collect damages for lost wages, the state’s highest appeals court ruled Tuesday.
     The New York Court of Appeals found six years ago in Matter of Maron, a case named after Nassau Judge Edward Maron, that conditioning judicial compensation to unrelated policy initiatives — a practice known as “linkage” — trampled upon the constitutional separation of powers.
     In a phone interview, attorney Thomas Bezanson from the firm Cohen & Gresser said his clients pursued that case on behalf of 1,800 judges denied wages over the course of 10 years, and they relished in their victory in 2010.
     “That was very satisfying, and it was good to see an end of that linkage,” Bezanson said.
     In its wake, New York convened an independent Commission on Judicial Compensation that recommended pay raises at four-year intervals after the effective date of the legislation.
     The belated hikes, however, offered no compensation for the decade that New York’s linkage policy was still in place. Family Court Judge Susan Larabee led the fight to recoup that money.
     However, on Tuesday, a unanimous five-judge panel of the New York Court of Appeals faulted the plaintiffs for the “false premise” that the 2010 decision entitled them to compensation.
     “In that case, we simply decided that the state had unconstitutionally compromised the independence of the judiciary over the course of three years by linking any decision on whether to increase judges’ salaries with other legislative initiatives such as the enactment of legislative pay increases and campaign finance reform,” the 9-page opinion states.
     Indeed, it would have been unconstitutional for the judiciary to order its own pay raise, the appeals court noted.
     “In pronouncing this remedy, we suggested that money damages would be an inappropriate form of relief from the state’s unconstitutional linkage practice because any mandate that the state pay money damages would, as a practical matter, be tantamount to a directive to increase judicial compensation in a manner that would arrogate the legislative branch’s budgetary powers to the judiciary,” Tuesday’s ruling states.
     The panel included Judges Eugene Pigott, Jenny Rivera, Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Eugene Fahey and Michael Garcia.
     Calling the decision “very disappointing,” Bezanson said that his clients have reached the end of their lawsuit.
     “All good things come to an end,” he joked.

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