The New York Post - EDITORIAL - April 21, 2011
Chateau Lippman is on hold.
New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman yesterday suspended work on converting an Albany office building into a set of luxury suites for the seven-member Court of Appeals. It's a symbolic gesture -- most of the $23 million cost of the conversion has already been spent. But it's the right move as the courts cope with a a $170 million budget reduction that Lippman warns will force nearly 500 layoffs within the state court system. The bloodletting actually began Wednesday, when Lippman approved 74 layoffs; more are expected come May. Lippman laments the action -- but, for the most part, he's done precious little to soften the blow. He could have dipped into a $12.4 million pot of cash that's at his disposal -- the $10,000 "expense" stipend Lippman granted to every judge in the state as a back-door raise. Court records show that the "expense" accounts are more often used as personal slush funds, with judges spending the cash on iPods, iPads, iPhones, computers, vacations to Cuba and California, and ritzy robes -- though most jurists simply pocket a $5,000 check twice a year, no questions asked. In the end, of course, the expense money is pocket change. Far bigger savings could be had if Lippman committed to seeking them. That is, if he could extract concessions from the system's unionized workforce, layoffs could in large part be averted. That's where the real money lies. But it helps to keep some perspective:
- Court headcounts increased by about 1,500 in the past decade, three times what Lippman expects to axe.
- Court budgets shot up 22 percent in the past five years -- double the rate of inflation.
Layoffs are never easy. And the fact remains that judges do deserve better salaries -- on a cost-of-living basis, New York judges are the worst-paid in the country. But the present crisis requires painful cuts all over. Gov. Cuomo will be doing his part, but he's at least trying to soften the blow with sweeping work-rule changes and related savings. Judge Lippman needs to do likewise.