Friday, January 24, 2014

The “Rule of Necessity” permits a tribunal, the members of which could be affected by the decision, to decide a case or controversy


The “Rule of Necessity” permits a tribunal, the members of which could be affected by the decision, to decide a case or controversy
Pines, et. al. v State of New York, 2014 NY Slip Op 00335, Appellate Division, Second Department

In deciding an action initiated by Emily Pines and other judges, Supreme Court that held that “the compensation of judges and justices of the Unified Court System of the State of New York was duly increased pursuant to the Laws of 2009, Chapter 51, §3, and that the [State] is obligated to pay the judges and justices of the Unified Court System of the State of New York in accordance therewith retroactive to April 1, 2009."

After conceding that “more than a decade had passed since the plaintiffs and their colleagues in the New York State judiciary had received a pay raise authorized by the Legislature,” and setting out the relevant history leading to Pines’ initiating this litigation, the Appellate Division recognized that “members of this Court have a pecuniary interest in this case and will be affected by the outcome of this appeal.”

The court then explained that "The participation of an independent, unbiased adjudicator in the resolution of disputes is an essential element of due process of law, guaranteed by the Federal and State Constitutions" and “in order to ensure the dignity of the judiciary and maintain the integrity of the administration of justice, [o]rdinarily, when a judge has an interest in litigation, recusal is warranted."

That said, the Appellate Division noted that "[t]he Rule of Necessity provides a narrow exception to this principle, requiring a biased adjudicator to decide a case if and only if the dispute cannot otherwise be heard." 

Here, said the court, "the self-interest implicated by the issues raised on appeal would provide grounds for disqualifying not only the justices of this Court, but any other judicial body which might replace it." As “the recusal of the members of this Court, and those of every other court in the Unified Court System, would leave the plaintiffs without a legal remedy, the ‘Rule of Necessity’ compels us to decide this appeal on the merits, notwithstanding our personal stake in the litigation.”

The Appellate Division then explained that, notwithstanding Supreme Court's conclusion to the contrary, “there is no language in the statute that adjusts the salary schedules of the various judges and justices of this state. As in prior years, the plain language of the statute merely directs that a certain sum necessary for adjusting judicial compensation be set aside—what has previously been recognized as a ‘dry appropriation.'"

Rejecting Pines’ position is that the statute must have adjusted the rates of judicial compensation because it referenced the purpose of the appropriation, the court concluded that this argument is not actually based on the plain language of the statute but rather “rests on an inference drawn from a reference to the appropriation's purpose.” In the words of the Appellate Division, … the plaintiffs' plain language argument would require us to interpret the statute in a manner that would render it unconstitutional.”

Further, the court noted that in deciding this appeal under the "Rule of Necessity," it is  “constrained to discern and apply the will of the elected members of the Legislature and not our own perceptions of what might be equitable,” quoting Alexander Hamilton writing in The Federalist, "[i]t can be of no weight to say that the courts . . . may substitute their own pleasure to the constitutional intentions of the legislature" (Hamilton, Federalist No. 78).”

Without addressing “the wisdom of the Legislature's decision or the manner in which it was carried out,” the Appellate Division concluded that the Legislature did not adjust judicial compensation through the enactment of the Laws of 2009, Chapter 51, §3” and reversed the Supreme Court’s ruling “on the law.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2014/2014_00335.htm
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