As reported by nj.com, a Superior Court judge challenging the increased payments judges must make under newly-enacted changes to public worker health and pension benefit plans will not be allowed to have his case directly sent to the New Jersey Supreme Court. In a two-paragraph order issued yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long said the state’s highest court will not relax the rules of court to allow Judge Paul DePascale to skip the trial and appellate levels.
DePascale, who sits in Hudson County, filed a complaint last month calling the health and benefit law enacted July 1 unconstitutional for judges, saying it cuts their salaries and threatens their judicial independence. The suit is the first legal challenge to the health and benefit law. Other state public employee unions are also vowing to sue. Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg in Mercer County is scheduled to hear the matter on September 16.
Depending on the course of action, the case could take years to move through the courts, including the Appellate Division. DePascale’s attorney said the Supreme Court has the discretion to hear a matter on an expedited basis. In her order, Justice Long said DePascale can ask the Supreme Court again to take up the case after Feinberg finishes with it.
The new law, to be phased in over seven years, will make judges’ pension contributions go from 3 percent to 12 percent of their annual salaries. DePascale’s pension deductions would jump by $14,849 by 2017, he said in court filings. In court papers, DePascale also said his health benefits contribution would more than double to $5,230.86. The increased financial contributions begin October 4.
Judicial salaries, set by law, range from $165,000 for Superior Court trial judges, including DePascale, to $192,795 for Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.
Governor Chris Christie has said judges traditionally have paid the least amount of money into their pension program yet they receive some of the highest payouts. Case law allows judges in New Jersey to hear cases that affect them when there is no other court that has jurisdiction over the matter. The case has not gone to federal court because DePascale’s allegations involve the state-not federal-constitution.