Judges to Sue Christie Over Pension and Benefit Reforms

By Art Gallagher

NJBiz is reporting that up to 80 tenured New Jersey Judges will file suit later this month challenging the recent pension and health benefit reforms passed by the State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Christie.

The suit is to be filed in Hudson County and a Hudson County Judge will be one of the name plaintiffs.

Judges currently earn between $165,000 to $192,795 each year, and contribute from $4,950 to $5,783 to their pensions annually, according to the memo, which was issued by Superior Court Judge Melvin Gelade. Under the recently passed public worker pension and health legislation, judges hired after January 1996 would, after seven years, see their annual retirement contributions jump to between $19,800 and $23,135 a year.

The suit will ask for a temporary injunction blocking the changes, and is expected to be filed in a Hudson County court, with a Hudson County judge to be named as the lead plaintiff.

“It is anticipated that only tenured judges should actively participate in, and contribute to, the financing of a suit,” according to the memo. “Non-tenured judges may anticipate being asked about their involvement at their reappointment hearings.”

Attorney Justin Walder, a member of the Roseland law firm Walder, Hayden & Brogan, will represent the plaintiffs, according to the memo. Walder did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

“The state constitution prevents the government from tampering with our compensation while we’re serving our term,” said a judge who expects to join the suit. “We thought we would be exempt from Christie’s pension and health cutbacks, but this appears to be payback for the state Supreme Court’s Abbott District ruling.”

The judges believe the suit will ultimately reach the state Supreme Court, and hope to have the high court hear it before Christie nominee Anne Patterson is seated in September, according to the judge, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner will recuse himself from the case, the judge added.

Well it is a good thing that Rabner will recuse himself, but how do they know that given that the suit hasn’t been filed yet?  

How can any New Jersey Judge possibly hear this case without a conflict?

Posted: July 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: NJ Judiciary | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

4 Comments on “Judges to Sue Christie Over Pension and Benefit Reforms”

  1. James Hogan said at 8:47 pm on July 5th, 2011:

    I am not a lawyer, nor do I try to be one, so hopefully someone can help me out.

    I searched the NJ State Constitution for the term “compensation” and can find no mention of “The state constitution prevents the government from tampering with our compensation“.

    And also, any idea where I have to go to file my own lawsuit that says I’m not required to pay more in property taxes than I did in 1996, just like it says in the State Constitution? It’s there, really.

  2. frithguild said at 2:54 pm on July 6th, 2011:

    “The Justices of the Supreme Court and the Judges of the Superior Court shall receive for their services such salaries as may be provided by law, which shall not be diminished during the term of their appointment. …” NJ CONST Art. 6, § 1, ¶ 1

    This provision does not refer to pensions, which appears in two other sections, one of which states:

    ” … Provisions for the pensioning of the Justices of the Supreme Court and the Judges of the Superior Court shall be made by law.” NJ CONST Art. 6, § 1, ¶ 1

    So may the Judges and Justices, who have their hands in my pockets through the Mount Laurel decision (I will never understand how our Constitution permits this), and who put their thumb in the eye of the Governor with their hissy fit over reappointment of Justice Wallace, can cry me a river because now they have to fund their pension.

  3. frithguild said at 3:02 pm on July 6th, 2011:

    First quote citation Art. 6 § 6, ¶ 6
    Second quote citation Art. 6 § 6, ¶ 3

  4. Maynard G Krebs said at 10:40 pm on July 8th, 2011:

    1. The basis for the provision in the federal constitution which prohibits diminishment of a sitting judge’s compensation, being the model for the similar NJ constitutional provision, is discussed by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper 79. It is founded upon the need for an independent judiciary, free from the political force or will of any other governmental branch. Hamilton states…”in the course of human nature a power over a man’s subsistence amounts to a power over his will”.

    2. Obviously if the governor or NJ legislature were to single out any particular sitting judge or judges for reduced compensation (as opposed to all judges equally) it would be an unconstitutional unilateral attack on the independence of that judge or judges.

    3. Equally obviously, if all sitting judges were to be subject to compensation reduction at the same rate by the governor or legislature, similar concerns for the independence of the judiciary would arise.

    4. Are these concerns implicated when there is no reduction in the amount of the judges salaries, but instead an increase in the deductions made from those salaries to pay for state provided health care and pensions? For example, can sitting judges complain that they would not be required to pay an increased state income tax rate? The increase in income tax rates certainly would affect the take-home pay but would not decrease or diminish their fixed compensation rate.

    5. The judges may have a point though. An income tax is levied on all wage earners equally. Here, the judicial compensation is being diminished by an increase in the payment that only they have to pay. What would stop a governor or legislature from increasing such costs in the future to such a high level that it would either drive judges from office or interfere with their independence – making them bow to political pressure for fear of economic retaliation by those holding the purse strings? The fact that these cost increases are being applied to all public employees makes it less likely that the current cost increases are retaliation for unpopular Supreme Court rulings.

    6. Much of this problem could have been avoided if the proposed health care and pension increases were made applicable only to judges taking office after the increases were passed.

    7. I too wonder how ANY New Jersey Superior Court or Supreme Court judge can in good conscience hear this case – they are all invested in the outcome of the litigation.