New York State court leaders ordered the seven oldest judges on Long Island to clean out their chambers at the end of the year as the judiciary cuts payroll to solve a coronavirus pandemic-induced budget crisis.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and the state Office of Court Administration (OCA) administrative board declined to recertify the judges, who are all older than 70. State law requires septuagenarian jurists biannually apply for recertification between ages 70 and the mandatory retirement age of 76.
“This extremely difficult but necessary determination will save the court system more than $55 million over the next two years,” Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks wrote Sept. 29 in a memo to judges statewide.
The LI judges — three in Nassau County, three in Suffolk County, and one appellate justice — are among 46 statewide older than 70 who the OCA has declined to recertify. The measure is one of several, including a court staff hiring freeze, that come after Gov. Andrew Cuomo cut the judiciary’s budget by $300 million to help close a $14 billion state deficit since COVID-19 unleashed an economic crisis. State Supreme Court justices make $210,900 annually.
Among the jurists getting the axe are State Supreme Court Justices for Nassau, including Judge Antonio Brandveen, Judge Jeffrey Brown, and Judge Thomas Feinman, who all preside in Mineola. Also in Nassau, Judge Stephen Bucaria, who was among those who wasn’t recertified, intended to retire at the end of the year before the memo was issued.
On the other side of the county line, Riverhead-based State Supreme Court Justices for Suffolk getting pinks slips are Judge Stephen Lynch, Judge Vincent Martorana, and Judge Robert Quinlan.
The seventh judge on the chopping block for LI is Presiding Appellate Term Justice Thomas Adams, who hears appeals on cases in the 10th judicial district that covers Nassau and Suffolk. There are currently 64 judges and acting justices hearing cases in the district’s trial courts.
Attorneys who try cases before the judges were not pleased with the move.
“This budget cut is a matter of grave concern to the New York State Bar Association because it will inevitably create hardship for litigants and delay the administration of justice,” New York State Bar Association President Scott M. Karson said in a statement. “The association is keenly aware that these are difficult times, but that makes it even more important that our federal and state governments work together to find revenue sources and restore this money. Let’s make sure that justice delayed is not justice denied.”
The OCA reiterated that the choice was not an easy one, but was necessary.
“We are living through a centennial event,” said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the OCA. “The 46 judges who were denied certification or recertification are part of the shared sacrifice that all 16,000 judicial and non-judicial employees have and continue to make and to live through, as we have kept and keep the nation’s largest and busiest court system functioning and serving the people of New York State.”
The judges have until Dec. 31 to clear out of their courtrooms.