Thursday, July 7, 2011

At the Point of Intersection Between Rock & Hard

Here in the State of Concrete Gardens, the hits just keep on coming.  The Guv and the Senate Prez transitioned from BFFs to BFs (Blood Feuders) faster than you can say, "line-item veto".  And now, hot on the heels of the Legislature having drafted - and the Guv having signed into effect - a law substantially impacting our public employees and the annual, out-of-pocket contribution each shall have to make for their health and pension benefits, it appears as if the refrain "Here Comes De Judge!" shall take on an entirely new meaning.  And it shall do so at least eighty times over.

NJBIZ.com reports - based upon a June 30 memo that it obtained - that up to eighty judges of the Superior Court of New Jersey shall file suit sometime in late July against the Guv - and presumably the Legislature.  The crux of the complaint?  Money. According to the report in NJBiz.com,  "Judges currently earn between $165,000 to $192,795 each year, and contribute from $4,950 to $5,783 to their pensions annually, according to the memo, which was issued by Superior Court Judge Melvin Gelade. Under the recently passed public worker pension and health legislation, judges hired after January 1996 would, after seven years, see their annual retirement contributions jump to between $19,800 and $23,135 a year."  The suit shall seek the imposition of a temporary injunction, blocking the proposed changes. 

A judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey is appointed initially for a term of seven years.  If at the end of that term, the judge's name is submitted for re-appointment by the Governor and the appointment is approved by the Senate, then he/she has tenure.  The appointment no longer carries a term of years.  Rather it carries a term of year - as in the year that the judge in question reaches 70 years of age. 

According to the memo NJBIZ.com obtained, the only judges taking part in this lawsuit are those who already have tenure.  The rationale for not having any non-tenured judge as a plaintiff is to avoid the very real possibility of ugliness during that jurist's hearing for re-appointment at the end of his/her initial seven-year term.  One can imagine I am sure how little fun it would be to be seated in a chair facing questioning by individuals who you had previously sued and upon whom - now - you are essentially begging for your professional existence.  Not exactly a festive atmosphere. 

The difficulty I have with the rationale is that in spite of inviting their non-tenured brethren and sisters of the bench to sit this one out, the plaintiffs are nevertheless placing them in a seemingly impossible spot.  Would you like to be a non-tenured member of the State Judiciary and be forced to rule upon a lawsuit in which the plaintiffs are the tenured members of the Judiciary and the defendants are the two-thirds of the State government who shall ultimately pass judgment on whether you receive tenure?  I would not.  I can think of many, many things I would rather be than the judge placed squarely in the cross hairs of that scenario. 

Reading this story, I immediately thought back to when I was a boy and Kelly would explain two equally unappealing options to me as, "Heads I win, Tails you lose."   Suddenly I am young again.  And remembering how that original movie ended, I am not looking forward at all to the sequel.

I suspect that I am not the only one.

-AK

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