Courting Disaster With the New York State Judiciary
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
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It’s never dull when you write about politics in New York.
And I’ve used many words in many columns on the accidental governor. I think the column of my friend and colleague Henry Stern below, serves as this paper’s commentary on the Paterson affair, with one addition.
The job of Governor of New York State is a complex and difficult one. An overwhelming deficit, a legislature self-absorbed and dysfunctional and an Albany culture of corruption raises the degree of difficulty to beyond the means of ordinary men (or women).
We believe David Paterson to be a damn decent person who entered public service for the right reasons. We chatted with him in the final week of his campaign for Lieutenant Governor and believed then and believe now that he was there for the right reasons.
David Paterson failed and failed miserably. He bumbled and stumbled almost every step along the way. He has a sight handicap and early on lost his chief advisor. Even if he had no bad breaks and no handicaps, he may not have been up to the task. But David Paterson’s missteps should not be what our governor is remembered for. We hope history and the future is good to him.
While all the Paterson craziness has been playing out on the pages of the State’s newspapers, quietly, another story has been largely ignored.
The State’s top court ruled last week that the legislature violated the State Constitution’s separation of power clause by linking judicial pay to their own compensation and other non-related issues.
Judges’ pay was last raised in 1998. Since then, the court found, inflation has drained as much as a third of the value of judges’ salaries. During the same period, the court found, the judges’ workload has risen to 4.5 million cases each year, from 3.5 million.
However, the Court of Appeals, in its 5-1 ruling, which combines three lawsuits filed by current and former state judges, stopped short of ordering that judges should now get a salary increase. Instead, it mandated that the Legislature and the Governor will have to reconsider judicial pay raises on their own merits using: “appropriate and expeditious legislative consideration.”
So while the State Court of Appeals added its lofty judicial voice to the many who for years have been calling for judicial pay raises regardless of legislative pay raises – this writer included – they have left the decision to the good faith of the New York State Legislature.
Needless for this writer to add to the tens of thousands of words he’s penned on the ethical behavior and dysfunction of the State legislature, but it will come as little surprise to the Court of Appeals, the sitting judges throughout the State and every student of government when the State Legislature complies with the State High Court’s ruling and holds hearings to consider judicial compensation and rejects the raises – for reasons independent of their own salary increases – like the budget deficit.
No, no one – including legislators themselves – expect them to do the right thing.
But there is more at stake than the raises to New York Judges.
I have chatted – off-the-record – with sitting New York State judges from three different counties. And while they all would like raises after more than a decade, another sentiment was expressed clearly.
The New York State Judiciary is about to face a serious crisis.
Our judges are going to begin to leave – flee this position of public service for the higher paid positions being offered them in private practice. In fact State Supreme Court Judges, who have not even received a cost - of - living adjustment, earn $136,700 less than a starting associate at many of the big New York Law firms.
“I’ve got to consider my family,” one told me.
The Court of Appeals has directed the NYS Legislature to address the situation for the “good of the state.”
Maybe this time lightning could strike and the New York State Legislature might just do the right thing.
We dream of justice in New York.
Tabloids Say Resign, But Paterson Likes the Job
By HENRY STERN
We hadn’t commented on state government for a week, since events were unfolding so rapidly. Hardly anybody supported Governor Paterson’s candidacy for-reelection prior to the first Times expose on Feb. 16, which dealt largely with two friends of the governor, David Johnson, the former intern, driver and body man turned senior adviser, and Clemmie Harris, who retired from the State Police 10 years ago and since worked on and off for the governor. Two days later, the Times published a highly critical article about the governor’s work schedule and relationships with other officials. In the nine days after the first Times story, his administration had all but collapsed.
The governor’s ill-fated, almost delusional candidacy for re-election was terminated just five days after he launched it at Hofstra. Because of the revelations on the use of the State Police in a domestic violence incident in the Bronx and the possibility that there are more disclosures to come, the playing field shifted. We do not know to what extent Attorney General Cuomo will pursue the investigation that Governor Paterson asked him to initiate. Like beauty, sin can be in the eye of the beholder.
The issue now becomes whether the beleaguered governor should or will resign. He is highly unlikely to resign voluntarily. Recall how long it took for him to abandon his doomed candidacy for renomination as the Democratic candidate for governor.
The Post and the News both ran front-page editorials urging Paterson to quit now.
David Paterson was born in 1954, and is said to have been named for future Mayor David Dinkins, a close friend of Paterson’s father, Basil, former NYS Secretary of State (for Governor Carey), longtime State Senator, and Deputy Mayor (for Mayor Koch). In New York, that is political royalty.
The younger Paterson spent 22 pacific years in the NYS Senate, the last four as minority leader, since the Democrats were in the minority from 1966 to 2008. They were swept into the majority by LBJ’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964. They were relegated to the minority in the next election after a single year in the majority. The Democrats could not agree on a Speaker or Majority Leader when they had power in 1965, and the dispute was settled when the Republicans united with a minority of Democrats to elect the Speaker of the Assembly and the Majority Leader of the Senate. That took place 45 years ago, but when it comes to the New York State Legislature, some things never seem to change.
At this time of turmoil, Governor Paterson should be given credit for his achievements. Perhaps his wisest move was choosing Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor, an action many thought beyond his power until the Court of Appeals decided otherwise, 4-3.
Recall that it was Eliot Spitzer who chose David Paterson as his lieutenant governor. Only 16 months after their inaugural, Paterson became his successor. Unfortunately, both men got into trouble for misusing the State Police. One would think that after Troopergate bedeviled the Spitzer administration, his successor would not interfere with law-enforcement, certainly not on a personal basis. Unfortunately, Paterson crossed the line to protect an apparently invaluable aide, who happened to beat up women.
What Paterson did was wrong, but is hardly an impeachable offense. But neither was Spitzer’s consensual sex with an adult woman an intrinsically impeachable offense. If marital fidelity were a requirement for holding public office, there would be considerably more turnover than there is today. Spitzer was forced to resign because almost everyone disliked him for his arrogant and abusive behavior.
Paterson is not like that. His problems include over-reliance on others who have problems of their own, total inconsistency in words and deeds from day to day and hour to hour, and inability to deal with matters of state in a reasonable and consistent manner. He has also scapegoated the legislature, which deserves much but not all of his abuse. Assembly Speaker Silver is a giant among pygmies, but he cannot keep the Albany house of cards together on his own. He has other issues, but one cannot even reach them unless there is a functioning government, which for the last three years we have not had in New York State. Who would have believed that the Brennan Institute of Justice report in 2004 would be the harbinger of further decline?
For the good of the state and the Democratic party, the governor probably should resign. It is highly unlikely that he will voluntarily step down, barring further disclosures about his conduct. He has already rendered himself unemployable by the Obama administration. Meanwhile, every day he stays in office increases his pension, on which he will have to rely some day, probably sooner rather than later. If he had been admitted to the Bar, he could be appointed a judge. If the state were a private corporation, he could receive a golden parachute. Perhaps some board or commission could be found in agencyland which would provide him with a safe berth.
Ten months remain in the Spitzer term. The state budget, by law, is supposed to be adopted by April 1, the start of the state’s new fiscal year. The greatest public service the governor could render at this time would be to leave these painful and almost insurmountable problems in the lap of his chosen successor, Richard Ravitch, who will never run for public office. It is better to make an honorable and gracious departure than to leave as a consequence of a widening investigation into improprieties, real or imagined.