NJ Judge Files Lawsuit over Public Sector Benefit Changes

July 22, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A state Superior Court judge claims in a lawsuit that New Jersey’s public worker pension and health benefits increases should be revoked for state judges because they unconstitutionally slash their salaries and undermine judicial independence.

According to the Star-Ledger, the complaint says the law runs counter to the part of the state constitution that says the salaries of the Supreme Court justices and Superior Court judges “shall not be diminished during their term of appointment.”  

The judge’s attorney wrote.”It diminishes the salary of all justices and judges appointed before the enactment of the subject legislation during their term of appointment and, by doing so, unconstitutionally and adversely (affects) the public and the independence of the judiciary.”   

The new law, to be phased in over seven years, will make judges’ pension contributions go from 3% to 12% of their annual salaries. The same law will boost the contributions of members of the Public Employee Retirement System from 5.5% of their salaries to 7.5% over that same period (see NJ Legislature Approves Cuts to Public Worker Benefits).   

Judges currently pay 1.5% of their salaries toward their health care benefits. The new law requires them to pay 35% of the premium cost.   

The Star-Ledger said state public employee unions angered by the changes are also vowing to go to court.  

Public sector pension changes in at least three other states are also being legally challenged (see Unions Sue Arizona over Pension Changes).