Two interesting cases have come up in NJ neighbors dealing with raises for judges.  In New York, judges have not been granted a raise in salary by the legislature and governor in 10 years.  Their salaries were tied to the fate of those of the legislators and governor who have not been given a raise in that same period.  The primary argument being used is that this violates the doctrine of separation of powers, where raises are tied to the other branches and consequently other political activities such as campaign finance reform.

But this whole concept of suing for a raise raises an interesting question (pun intended).  Who is making this decision and ruling?  The judges potentially impacted.  Doesn’t this present a huge conflict of interest which should disqualify every state level judge in the NY?  Is there no confirmation bias going on here?  Have judges been quitting because of the low pay (or not running for re-election)?  (The answer it seems is no.)  Has the judiciary’s independence been infringed by lack of legislative and executive action?  Apparently not given a state court judge ruled in the judiciary’s favor.  The case has been appealed (and the ruling stayed) and will be heard on November 17.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, across the Delaware in Pennsylvania, the exact opposite has happened.  The legislature passed a pay raise bill for itself, executive branch officials and judges back in 2005 only to repeal it 4 months later in response to public backlash.  In September 2006, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the legislature could not legally cut a judge’s salary and invalidated the repeal for the judiciary.

However, one state superior court judge, Joan Orie Melvin, did not want to accept the raise.  She was forced to sue when the state would not adjust her paycheck to reflect the old amount.   Commonwealth Court judges said she could not, claiming it would be illegal for her to take less than the full salary because it could establish a ”two-tiered system of judicial compensation.”  Without holding any hearings, the Supreme Court justices – in a one-sentence order – have backed the lower court’s decision.  The judge can donate the extra salary or return it to the state, but she must accept it – and pay taxes on it, the court said.