The New York Court of Appeals on Thursday ruled that two retired Westchester County Supreme Court justices may not receive a salary and pension at the same time because public policy prohibits double-dipping.
A justice can choose to retire with a full pension, the court ruled in an unsigned 5-0 decision, or to suspend their pension and seek certification to continue serving.
County Supreme Court justices must retire at age 70 but they can ask the administrative board to extend their terms for two years at a time, through age 76.
The case was brought by Gerald E. Loehr, 73, who served on the Westchester Supreme Court and now in Rockland County; J. Emmett Murphy, 76, Westchester Supreme Court; and William Miller, Brooklyn Supreme Court.
As of April 1, Supreme Court justices are paid $194,300 a year. Pensions vary. The New York Law Journal, citing court papers, said Loehr is entitled to a pension of $66,000 a year, Murphy $91,309 and Miller $89,000.
The state Administrative Board of the Courts allowed the justices to receive their salaries and pensions while the lawsuit was pending.
The board has “nearly unfettered discretion” over certifying retired justices, the Court of Appeals ruled, and justices must receive medical approvals that show they can continue to handle the job physically and mentally.
While the justices were applying for certification, the board issued an order that it would no longer certify justices who chose to receive a retirement allowance and a salary simultaneously.
The board based its position on the idea that double-dipping makes a bad impression on the public and hurts the court system in negotiations with other branches of government over budgets and personnel matters.
The three justices claimed the board had exceeded its authority and that the administrative order was illegal and unconstitutional. They lost in Albany Supreme Court but won in the Appellate Division.
The Court of Appeals – New York’s equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court – reversed the Appellate Division.
The court noted that for more than a century it has been public policy in New York to discourage state employees from receiving salaries and pensions at the same time.
Former justices have no right to certification for new employment, the court ruled, “therefore they have no right to receive the salary associated with that position and simultaneously draw a retirement allowance.”
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who also serves on the administrative board and is a former Westchester County district attorney, took no part in the decision.
Loehr and Murphy were on the bench this morning and were unavailable to respond to a request for comment. Their attorney, Robert A. Spolzino of Yonkers did not respond to a voicemail message.