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7-24-12 Key Supreme and Appeals Court Rulings Released Today
Star Ledger - Judges don't have to contribute more for health care and pensions, N.J. Supreme Court rules

Star Ledger-Associated Press - N.J. school districts can't have round-the-clock code of conduct on students, court rules

Star Ledger - Judges don't have to contribute more for health care and pensions, N.J. Supreme Court rules

Published: Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 12:57 PM Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 1:01 PM

By MaryAnn Spoto/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — A divided Supreme Court said today a new law requiring state employees to contribute more toward their pension and health benefits is unconstitutional for judges and justices because it cuts their salaries.

The highly anticipated 85-page decision deals a blow to Gov. Chris Christie, who made pension and health benefits changes a cornerstone of his administration.

The 3-2 decision said the new law, known as Chapter 78, is unconstitutional as it applies to Superior Court judges and Supreme Court justices already on the bench by June 28, 2011, because it violates the terms of the state Constitution that guarantees no salary cut for sitting jurists. The provision was included to ensure they could not be punished by members of the other two branches of government for unpopular decisions.

The state has argued health benefits and pensions are considered compensation and are separate from judicial salaries.

But Justices Jaynee LaVecchia and Barry Albin, joined by Judge Dorothea Wefing, said the terms “salary” and “compensation” were used interchangeably by the framers of the state Constitution in 1947. It noted that every time the state Legislature imposed pension requirements on judges, it included a corresponding pay raise for them.

“…Whatever good motivation the Legislature may have had when enacting Chapter 78 with its broad application to all state public employees, the framers’ message is clear,” the court said. “The Constitution forbids the reduction of a justice or judge’s take-home salary during the term of his or her appointment.”

Justices Helen Hoens and Anne Patterson who dissented, said health benefits and pension payments are not considered part of the salaries.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner recused himself from the case.

The new law does apply to new Superior Court judges and Supreme Court justices as well as to judges on other courts.

Christie’s office did not immediately have a comment.

While the higher contributions went into effect last year for most state employees, Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale challenged the changes, saying they violate the state Constitution’s prohibition of “diminished” salaries for Superior Court judges and Supreme Court justices while they are in office.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said that he was “disappointed” with the decision but vowed the court won’t have the last word.

“While I am disappointed in the court’s ruling, it will not be the final word on this issue,” he said in a written statement. “The reforms we passed last year are essential to ensuring the health and viability of every one of the state’s pension systems.”

Pending in the Assembly and Senate are resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature the authority to amend judicial salaries for taking contributions from justices' and certain judges' salaries for employee benefits. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee was expected to take up the measure on June 7 but held off while members waited for the court decision.

New Jersey voters would have to approve the measure.

DePascale’s attorney, Justin Walder of Roseland, said the judge did not contest the Legislature’s authority to require judges and justices to contribute to the pension and health benefits through the payroll deductions.

He said DePascale challenged lawmakers’ authority to impose those requirements while the Constitution prohibits salary cuts.

“By upholding the trial court’s decision, the Supreme Court has properly prevented legislative usurpation of a power which our Constitution provides exclusively to the people of this state — the power to modify our Constitution,” he said. “Should the people choose to diminish the principle of judicial independence, it is their right to do so. Until that time, however, today’s ruling will continue to protect the judges and justices of this state from intimidation, undue influence or domination so that they can adjudicate each case fairly and independently as the law and facts require.”

The state Attorney General’s Office has argued the increased contributions are not a salary reduction but are a change in the benefits the jurists receive.

Superior Court Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg, who has since retired, ruled last fall the higher payments are salary cuts for the judges and justices. Bypassing the appellate division, the Supreme Court took up the case directly. That move prompted Christie, who accused the court of making a rush to judge, to call the justices “unelected, unresponsive public servants” and “the exalted elite.”

That practice of bypassing is rare, but the state’s highest court is permitted to skip the Appellate Division when there are no major facts in dispute or when it believes the issue is a matter of important public interest.

The Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue on March 26.



Star Ledger-Associated Press -  N.J. school districts can't have round-the-clock code of conduct on students, court rules

Published: Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 1:10 PM

By The Associated PressThe Associated Press

TRENTON — An appeals court has upheld limits that prevent school districts from imposing around-the-clock code of conducts on students.

The court today sided with the state Education Department when it found the Ramapo Indian Hills Regional School District board overstepped its authority.

The board in 2009 created a rule that temporarily banned students from sports and extracurricular activities if they were accused of drinking alcohol, using drugs or breaking other laws, off campus or after school.

The court sided with a former education commissioner who invalidated the rule.

The commissioner found schools can only punish students for off-campus behavior to spare them or others from harm, and the misconduct must have "some link to the school environment."


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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