As reported by nj.com, New Jersey’s public worker pension and health benefits increases should be revoked for state judges because they unconstitutionally slash their salaries and undermine judicial independence, a state Superior Court judge claims in a lawsuit filed Thursday.
The complaint, filed by Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale, who sits in Hudson County, is the first legal challenge to the landmark health and benefits law enacted last month. State public employee unions angered by the changes are also vowing to go to court.
The complaint says the law runs counter to the part of the state constitution that says the salaries of the Supreme Court justices and Superior Court judges “shall not be diminished during their term of appointment.” “It diminishes the salary of all justices and judges appointed before the enactment of the subject legislation during their term of appointment and, by doing so, unconstitutionally and adversely (affects) the public and the independence of the judiciary,” DePascale’s attorney wrote.
Set by law, judicial salaries range from $165,000 for Superior Court trial judges, including DePascale, to $192,795 for Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. New Jersey now has 430 judges. DePascale, however, said in his court filing that his deductions will increase “steadily and dramatically” over the next seven years. His pension deductions would be hiked $14,849 by 2017, when he would be paying $18,137 into the pension system. DePascale also said his health benefits contribution would more than double to $5,230.86, based on state estimates that would allow different levels of coverage.
The new law, to be phased in over seven years, will make judges’ pension contributions go from 3 to 12 percent of their annual salaries. The same law will boost the contributions of members of the Public Employee Retirement System from 5.5 percent of their salaries to 7.5 percent over that same period.
An initial hearing before Mercer County Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg is set for September 16. Pension changes took effect July 1. However, actual deductions start October 14, along with health contribution hikes.