Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg has ruled that New Jersey’s new pension and benefit plans for public employees would be “unconstitutional” when applied to judges.
Hudson County Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale filed a suit about the new benefits laws in July, alleging that the increased contributions violated a provision in the New Jersey constitution that judges’ compensation could not be changed. According to NorthJersey.com, judges salaries are the only members of the public work force whose salaries are constitutionally protected from being reduced.
The Asbury Park Press reports that the new law would raise a judge’s contribution rate by 9 percent of salary over seven years beginning this month and requires them to pay 35 percent of health-premium costs within four years.
DePascale, 62, has been a Superior Court judge for 20 years and earns $165,000 a year. He said his pension contribution would increase from $3,287.44 in 2011 to $18,137.38 in 2017, and his health care costs could double.
Governor Christie’s office says a judge contributes less than 10 percent of their pension costs, while other state employees pay about 50 percent. According to the Governor’s office, a retired judges’ average pension benefit is $107,540 a year off an average lifetime contribution of $59,300, meaning the contribution will be made up in less than seven months.
NJ.com reports that state law allows judges to hear cases directly affecting them when there is no other appropriate court to hear the case. The case could not be taken to U.S. District Court because it does not involve federal allegations.