NEW YORK, Nov 18 (Reuters) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
on Friday lost the latest round in his fight to compel state
judges to pay more for their pension and health-care benefits,
after a panel of appellate judges refused to stay a lower
court's ruling declaring the increased deductions
The three-judge panel denied the state's motion for a stay,
which would have allowed the state to continue deducting
additional funds from the jurists' paychecks throughout the
At issue is whether the Pension and Health Care Benefits
Act that Christie, a Republican, signed into law June 28
violates the state constitutional provision that salaries for
state judges and Supreme Court justices may not be diminished
while they are in office.
Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale, who sits in Hudson
County, filed a lawsuit in July insisting that the legislation
would do just that, and Judge Linda Feinberg, the assignment
judge in Mercer County, ruled in October that the new law
violates the state constitution as it applies to judges. She
later denied the state's motion for a stay, and the state
turned to the Appellate Division.
The state has argued that the constitutional provision
prohibiting reductions only applies to salaries, not pension
benefits or health coverage.
DePascale makes $165,000 annually, and alleged that his
pension and health care deductions would "increase steadily and
dramatically" under the new law.
On Nov. 10, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to hear the
matter directly, bypassing the intermediate appeals court. The
only matter that remained before the appellate judges,
therefore, was whether to grant the stay. Judges Philip
Carchman, Clarkson Fisher Jr. and William Nugent declined.
The key issue before the trial court, and now at the heart
of the appeal, is the impact of the benefits act on judicial
independence, according to the appellate ruling, signed by
Carchman. But that issue also factored into the appellate
judges' decision regarding the stay.
In court papers, the state argued that it "cannot seriously
be contended that judicial independence is threatened during
the pendency of an appeal."
But the court disagreed, finding that the public's interest
in maintaining a strong and independent judiciary is "imperiled
by any violation" of that section of the constitution that says
the salaries of judges shall not be diminished during their
terms, "no matter how extensive and regardless of its
The Supreme Court won't hear the issue until next year.
Gov. Christie's office declined to comment on the appellate
ruling. The governor and his administration previously blasted
the lower court's rulings as "self-serving" decisions made in
favor of a group of "elitist" judges.
The lower court case is Paul M. DePascale v. State of New
Jersey, Superior Court of New Jersey Law Division - Mercer
County, No. MER-L-1893-11.
For DePascale: Justin Walder of Walder, Hayden & Brogan.
For the state: Assistant Attorney General Robert Lougy and
Deputy Attorney General Jean Reilly.
(Reporting by Jennifer Golson)
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