Chadbourne Wins Precedent-Setting Victory For Judicial Pay Increases in New York’s Court of Appeals

Firm Handled the Case on a Pro Bono Basis – Legal Newswire –

February 24, 2010 — The international law firm of Chadbourne & Parke LLP won a precedent-setting victory when the New York State Court of Appeals ruled February 23 that a denial of pay raises for the State’s 1,300 judges is a violation of the separation of powers doctrine of the New York State Constitution. The ruling obligates the State Legislature to consider the merits of judicial pay increases, and paves the way for raises for the judges going back to 1999, the date of their last raise.

In a 5-to-1 ruling, New York’s highest court held that the failure of the State Legislature to consider pay raises for judges violates the State’s Constitution by threatening judicial independence. The Court did not prescribe a specific remedy for the lack of pay increases, but directed the Legislature to address the issue expeditiously. Chadbourne represented four judges in one of three lawsuits that were consolidated before the Court of Appeals; the ruling addressed all three lawsuits.

“This is an excellent ruling for our clients and for all judges in the State,” said Judge George Bundy Smith, Chadbourne’s lead partner on the pro bono case and himself a former judge on the Court of Appeals. “We expect that the legislature will act quickly to rectify the lack of raises for the judiciary.”

Judge Smith said the ruling has possible ramifications for judicial pay in other states, and that it is important to promote the independence and high quality of the judiciary in New York. “New York has always been at the forefront of the nation’s legal system. It is a world-wide commercial and legal center, and judges in this state are called upon to deal with highly complex legal issues, so it is vitally important to maintain the high quality of our judicial system,” he said.

In addition to Judge Smith, the Chadbourne team included Carson J. Pulley, Robert M. Kirby and Caroline Pignatelli. Additionally, former partner Thomas E. Bezanson, now of Cohen & Gresser, served as co-counsel with Chadbourne and was instrumental in the victory.

Chadbourne filed the suit in September 2007 and won favorable rulings in both the trial court and in an intermediate appellate court. The February 23 ruling by the Court of Appeals upholds those rulings.

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