I’m having a hard time working up any sympathy for Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, her cohorts on New York state’s highest court, or other judges in New York state who are whining because they haven’t had a raise in 10 years. The lowest paid full-time city court judge in New York state still makes $108,000 per year, while Judge Judy makes $156,000.
According to an Associated Press article in The Daily Gazette on April 2, “Compensation for New York’s 1,250 state-level judges now ranks 49th among states, which Kaye said is “shameful considering the enormity and complexity of their case dockets.” What I think is shameful is that several judges have already sued the state of New York, meaning you and me, and Judge Judy is preparing to sue New York state if the Legislature doesn’t approve judicial raises.
What is also shameful is that Bernard Nussbaum, a litigation partner in the firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and former counsel in the Clinton White House, is going to handle the lawsuit for these wealthy clients for free. Meanwhile, defendants often have to appear in courts presided over by these same judges with inadequate defense because they cannot afford a good lawyer.
It’s also shameful to hear judges whining about how little they make, when they make two to three times the median New York state family income. When you combine their incomes with that of their spouses, the gap between their income and the typical family’s income in New York becomes a chasm. Judge Judy’s individual income is almost four times more than the typical family income here in Montgomery County.
Apparently, some judges are upset because they have had to borrow money to send their kids to college. So what? Join the human race. The only difference is they are borrowing money to send their kids to Ivy League and other prestigious colleges, while the rest of us are borrowing money to send our kids to state schools and community colleges.
The important question isn’t how much our judges are making in comparison to other states, or how long it has been since they have had a raise. The real question is just how much money does a person need?
Tolstoy wrote a short story, which James Joyce said was the greatest short story ever written, called "How Much Land Does A Man Need?" The protagonist, a peasant named Pakhom is greedy for land. The Bashkirs tell him they will sell him all the land he can walk around in one day for 1,000 rubles. He has to be back at his starting point by sunset, but he gets so greedy he walks farther and farther.
Finally, when he realizes how late it is, he has to run all the way back. When he arrives at the starting point, he collapses and dies. The other peasants bury him and we learn that six feet is all the land a man needs.
Where does it all end?
And so it is with money. Judge Judy is not alone in her need or greed for more. Almost all of our politicians are the same. And we hear the same reasons and excuses over and over for why they should earn more.
Our school superintendent should get a raise because the superintendent in Albany is making more. Our county supervisors should get paid more because county supervisors in Vermont make more. Our police should get paid more because the police in Uzbekistan make more. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseam.
There is never any mention of how much the average taxpayer, the person who has to pay for these raises, makes.
Even if you disagree with me, and believe that judges need a raise, is now the right time? We stand on the brink of an economic recession, bigger than anything we have seen in years, and still our leaders come to the public trough, grunting for more.
Before filing her lawsuit, I would recommend that Judge Judy (and other judges and politicians who feel they don’t earn enough) step out of her marble palace in Albany and head 30 miles west to Amsterdam.
Then she should travel the entire length of what I call the Route 30 Poverty Corridor, which runs from the Canadian border to the Pennsylvania border. She should stop every so often, look around, look at the housing, talk to people, then go home and contemplate whether or not these people can afford to pay for her raise.
If that doesn’t change her mind, then I would suggest that Judge Judy, and any other judges and state leaders who are not happy with their current salaries, resign and go into private practice and make those millions of dollars that we are always being told that they could make if they were in the private sector.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.