ALBANY, NY -The formation of a commission to recommend judicial salaries, an initiative lauded by state court administrators, has not quelled the frustration of state judges who continue to demand an immediate raise and retroactive salary hikes, according to an informal online survey organized by four judges. Ninety-six percent of the judges who responded to the survey—527 of 557—answered "no" when asked, "Are you satisfied with the outcome of the salary dispute?" Ninety-one percent said the judiciary should continue to advocate for an immediate raise, and 94 percent said judges should keep pushing for a retroactive increase to make up some of the ground lost since the judiciary last got a raise in 1999.
The salary commission's first recommendations would not be implemented until April 1, 2012.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman predicted last month that the new commission would recommend a significant raise, a finding that could be overturned only by a legislative vote. After years of fruitless lobbying by the judiciary, he called its enactment "a long overdue salute" to the judges(NYLJ, Dec. 13, 2010).
But many judges apparently have not been appeased.
Of the survey's respondents, 79 percent said "no" when asked if the judicial pay commission was "the best outcome that realistically could have been achieved."
And 91 percent said that they would back a new umbrella organization, in addition to 10 existing judges associations, "to advocate on behalf of its membership with respect to issues such as salaries and other terms and conditions of employment." Family Court Judge W. Dennis Duggan in Albany County, one of the developers of the survey, compared the projected organization to a trade union in an interview with The New York Times, but the survey itself indicated that there were limits to judicial activism among the respondents. More than half, or 53 percent, said they would not be willing to take part in a public demonstration "such as a rally or march" in support of higher pay.
Judge Lippman was not available to comment on the survey, but Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau said the independent pay commission was a good outcome that will make judges less dependent on the governor and the Legislature for future raises. The Court of Appeals ruled last year that the other branches had unconstitutionally tied raises to unrelated issues. "But for some individual judges it doesn't resolve all their problems and we recognize that," she acknowledged. "Look, if somebody said to me, 'Is this a perfect outcome?' My response would be that it is not. For the institution, a commission is a very, very positive thing. But if I were an individual judge and I was going to retire next year, I would be pretty frustrated." Judge Pfau added that the establishment of a new judges' group would have no effect on the way court administrators deal with the judges. "I am happy to deal with 20 associations or one association," she said. However, Judge Pfau added that she does not think it is "realistic in this economic climate to believe that an association can achieve more in the way of salary increases now" than what was achieved by Judge Lippman, herself and others who lobbied on behalf of establishing the pay commission. As far as unionizing judges, Judge Pfau said her reading of the state’s Taylor Law indicates that sitting judges do not have the power to form collective bargaining units. But she said the question is one for the Public Employment Relations Board. Jeffrey Lebowitz, a Court of Claims judge who is an acting Supreme Court justice in Queens, one of the organizers of the survey, said he believes that getting so many responses to the poll was convincing evidence that frustration over pay continues to linger.
"Judges are not necessarily the most activist-type people," said Justice Lebowitz, who is also president of the 400-member New York State Association of Designated Justices. "By in large, they tend not to get involved in things. But people are obviously very unhappy with the situation. I don't think they are so unhappy with the commission and the commission's implications for the future. But they are obviously unhappy about going without raises for so long." In addition to Judge Duggan, others involved in the survey effort were Brooklyn Family Court Judge Daniel Turbow and Queens Family Court Judge Barbara Salinitro. Judge Turbow said he is trying to organize a meeting in early February of representatives of the existing 10 judicial groups, which represent judges in different courts, to gauge the appetite for "further collective action." Judge Lebowitz argued that there is enough common ground among all judges to support a more unified approach to the pay issue. "I think there is a sense that by not speaking with a clear voice, we are kind of getting pushed around," he said.
The 11-question poll was posted online at Survey Monkey on Dec. 17; judges were given until Jan. 3 to respond. Respondents' confidentiality was guaranteed. At the same time, judges were prevented from answering more than once Of the state's 1,267 judges, 43.9 percent responded. Lee Miringoff, a pollster at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, who was not involved in the effort, called that a "decent response." "I think the tendency would be that you get responses from people who are fired up," Judge Duggan said. "Obviously, the fire is hottest under the proponents for raises and stronger action. A number who occupy administrative positions with OCA might feel loyalty in that regard and not participate." Joel Stashenko can be contacted at email@example.com.