TRENTON – The state’s highest court is hearing oral arguments this morning regarding a Superior Court judge’s legal challenge of New Jersey’s landmark overhaul of pension and benefit contributions for state employees.
Attorneys for Judge Paul DePascale are expected to argue that Gov. Chris Christie and the state Legislature are illegally forcing judges to take a salary cut by forcing them to pay more into their pension and health care benefits.
Most state judges pay about 3 percent of their salary. The new reforms will require them to pay 12 percent over the course of a seven year phase-in period.
DePascale and his attorneys say the state Constitution strictly prohibits judges being forced to take a pay cut while serving on the bench.
“The question is once you give it during term of office, can you diminish it?” Justice Barry Albin asked Assistant Attorney General Robert Lougy, who is representing the state.
“The salary has not been changed here,” said Lougy, explaining in his opening remarks that salary and compensation are not mutually exclusive.
The article of the state Constitution being cited this morning reads: “The justices of the Supreme Court … shall receive for their services such salaries as may be provided by law, which shall not be diminished during the term of their appointment.”
There are about a half million public employees in New Jersey. Judges and justices make up roughly 400 of those individuals, according to Lougy.