As reported by nj.com, a group of state employees challenging the constitutionality of New Jersey’s new law covering pension and health benefits wants to combine their lawsuit to the one brought by a Superior Court judge. The employees said the lawsuit filed by Judge Paul DePacale was similar to the one filed on their behalf and that the two should be consolidated in challenging the pension and health benefits law that went into effect June 28.
However, lawyers for DePascale and those identified as Defendants insist the cases are not closely enough related to warrant consolidation and are asking Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg to keep them separate. Feinberg, the assignment judge in Mercer County, is expected to issue a ruling on the request on October 5.
DePascale, the first to file suit over the state’s new pension and health benefits package, contends the changes are unconstitutional because they run counter to the state Constitution, which prohibits the salaries of Supreme Court justices and Superior Court judges from being “diminished” while in office. The new law, enacted June 28 but which will largely take effect October 14, phases in the pension contributions of judges from 3 percent to 7 percent of their annual salaries over seven years.
Judges current contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health care benefits. The new law requires them to pay 35 percent of the premium cost. DePascale has said that would more than double his contribution toward health benefits to $5,230.86.
For the employees, the contributions are structured differently than those of judges. Contributions are on a sliding scale based on salary. In a seven count complaint, the employees contend the new law violates the State Constitution by denying their right to organize and present grievances through their unions. In addition, they contend the legislation unfairly creates classes of employees by requiring them to contribute different amounts for the same health benefits. They also claim the law creates an unconstitutional tax on their base salaries.
DePascale’s lawyer says the cases are only “tangentially” related and opposes the consolidation. In court papers, DePascale asserts the state Constitution addresses the salaries of judges and justices, but not other judicial employees. Attorneys for the Senate and Assembly said consolidation would be unfair because DePascale has not identified them as defendants in his lawsuit. Finally, attorneys for the State, the Treasury Department, and the State Treasurer said the cases should not be consolidated because they are seeking to dismiss DePascale’s suit, but have not taken that action against the others.