New Jersey’s judges and government-paid attorneys want to see the recently approved increase in the cost of health and pension benefits as it affects them repealed by the Legislature and the governor and the New Jersey State Bar Association on Thursday announced it plea has its support.
The judges and Bar Association argue the legislation threatens the independence of the judiciary and will impair the ability of courts and the government to fulfill their duties to the public.
The Bar Association support follows a decision by Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale who sits in Jersey City to sue to halt the benefit hikes for judges and Supreme Court justices.
In a complaint filed in Trenton, DePascale contends the law increasing pension and health benefits is unconstitutional when it comes to the judges and justices.
In court papers, DePascale said the deductions will increase "steadily and dramatically’’ over the next seven years. He said his pension deductions would increase $14,849.94 by 2017, when he would be paying $18,137.38 into the pension system.
The benefits’ increase would make the health care contribution for judges go from $2,475 annually to up to $5,230.86, depending on the type of coverage.
The Legislature and Gov. Chris Christie last month approved a bill that raised the cost of health and pension benefits for all state and local government employees, including the judges an government lawyers.
The governor believes the changes will result in $43 million in pension cost savings for local governments in the 2011-12 fiscal year. The pension benefit changes are expected to result in a $120 million savings for local governments over the neat 30 years.
Asked to comment on DePascale and the judges' reaction to the benefits' increases, Michael Drewniak, the governor's press secretary, said, "Of all classes of New Jersey state employees, judges of the Superior Court have enjoyed the lowest pension contribution rate and received the richest pension benefits. Judge DePascale should probably just say thank you and look forward to a comfortable retirement."
Drewniak said that prior to the increase, a typical public employee employee contributed half of the actual cost of his or her pension through a 5.5 percent contribution of annual salary. In contrast, he said, a typical judge earning the statutory $165,000 was covering less than 10 percent (9.55 percent) of the cost of his or her pension as a result of a 3 percent contribution of annual salary. Drewniak said the average annual benefit for a new retiree in the judicial retirement system is approximately $107,540. He added, the average lifetime member contribution in the judicial retirement system is approximately $59,300 – with the average period of time to recover those contributions in retirement being just 6.5 months.
Over the next three decades, the state will save $79 billion in contribution to the pension funds. The state will contribute $148 billion, a projected savings of nearly $80 billion. Without the change, the state was projected to contribute $227 billion over the same period.And over the next 30 years, local governments will save another $43 billion in pension plan contributions. Local government will contribute $70 billion. Without the change, local governments were projected to contribute $113 billion.
Trial judges earn $165,000 annually while assignment judges make $171,731, appellate judges $175,534, associate justices $185,482, and the chief justice $192,795.
The Bar Association’s Board approved a pair of resolutions urging Christie and the Legislature to revoke those portions of the pension and health care benefits reform act that apply to sitting judges and full-time government attorneys, including prosecutors, public defenders, deputy attorneys general and other public service lawyers.