Amherst Town Court judges deserve to be paid $110,000 -- almost three times what they make now -- State Supreme Court Justice Vincent E. Doyle claims.
Doyle, administrative judge for the eight Western New York counties, strongly urged town officials to end 14 years of stagnant court wages and to raise judges' salaries, he said in a letter to town officials this week. Amherst's part-time Justices Mark G. Farrell and Geoffrey Klein currently make $42,000.
But the unusual appeal fell flat with Town Board members.
"I don't deny they are very, very busy. . . . I spend a lot of time at this job, too," said Board Member Jane Woodward. "The bottom line is . . . all elected officials' salaries should be examined at the same time. I think it would be inappropriate to make that decision now."
The administrative judge said he weighed in on the pay debate after reading a newspaper report stating that Amherst hasn't raised the pay of any elected official in more than a decade. Meanwhile, town judges are coping with an "enormous caseload," according to Doyle.
"They deserve, in my judgment, to be paid at least the same rate as some of the city courts in the Eighth Judicial District, which would be in the range of $110,000 a year," he told board members.
"However, understanding the realities of municipal budgets, the judges should at least receive a salary increase reflective of their outstanding contributions and professionalism."
But instead of heeding the judge's plea, board members set aside the matter for the 2002 budget and agreed to initiate a salary review for all elected officials.
"We want to set up an independent citizens review panel. . . . We felt strongly that politics should not enter into the decisions," Supervisor Susan J. Grelick said.
Court officials had asked for $34,000 next year in order to boost salaries for Farrell, Klein and other court personnel. Grelick deleted the request from her proposed budget, saying, "None of the elected officials are getting raises."
Court officials then appeared at a budget session reminding Town Board members that they now receive less pay for handling more cases than their counterparts in Cheektowaga as well as in Tonawanda and other surrounding towns.
City court judges in Buffalo and other nearby cities also earn more money, but are usually not allowed to practice law on the side, as in the case of part-time town judges.
However, according to Doyle, the caseloads in Amherst and other large towns "could justify having full-time judges."