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Gov. Christie calls for constitutional amendment following court ruling on judicial pay

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October 20, 2011

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By Bailey Ludlam

TRENTON, New Jersey: A superior court judge ruled earlier this week that recent judicial reforms were unconstitutional. The issue, however, may be headed to the 2012 statewide ballot.

In June 2011 Gov. Chris Christie and state lawmakers worked to tackle the state's $112 billion unfunded liability for pension and health coverage. The reform increased the amount public workers pay. Specifically, judges are required to contribute 12 percent of their salary to the Judicial Retirement Fund. High earning judges are also required to contribute more to their healthcare plans. Earners of $95,000 or more a year will pay 17.5 percent of their premiums starting in July 1. The rate will increase to 35 percent in 2014.[1]

Following the changes, Hudson County Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale filed a lawsuit. He argued that the new requirements for increased contributions to pensions violated the state's constitutional provision that judges' compensation cannot be changed during a judge's tenure.[1]

On October 17, Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg ruled that Christie's pensions and benefit reforms were "unconstitutional" for members of the judiciary. Feinberg ruled that requiring judges to pay more out of their paychecks amounted to a "diminution of salary." According to the state constitution, judicial salaries cannot be changed during their tenure.[1]

The ruling, however, does not mark the end of the issue, according to Christie.

Days following the ruling Christie announced efforts for a constitutional amendment. The proposed measure would amend the New Jersey Constitution to define justices and judges’ salary as exclusively salary, not encompassing pension and benefit payments.[2]

According to reports, Christie is expected to send language for the proposal to the New Jersey General Assembly by October 21, 2011.[2]

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