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District attorney gets 27% raise; state law gives legislature no choice

By Fritz Mayer
August 14, 2012

Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell presented the legislature with a resolution that would raise his salary some 27% over three years, lifting it from $127,000 to $161,700 in 2014.

In the August 9 meeting that was punctuated with frustration and laughter, Farrell explained that a commission voted to give judges in the state the same percentage salary increase after the judges had gone without a raise for 14 years. He said that state law ties his salary to that of the county court judge.

He added that the state was going to cover 100% of the cost of the increase, at least for the first year, which runs retroactively from April 1, 2012, through March 31, 2013.

Lawmaker Kathy LaBuda asked if he had it in writing that the state would cover the increase. She said, “I don’t trust the state. We have this problem with probation and every other department—they tell us the money is coming and we never see it.”

Farrell answered that it was in writing, but he said he couldn’t promise that, in future years, the increases would be funded by Albany, and he said that the raise at that point might become another “unfunded mandate.”

Reading the resolution, lawmaker Cindy Gieger said, “What jumps out at me is ‘the legislature must increase the salary of the district attorney to comply with state law.’”

Lawmaker Kitty Vetter said, “I’m quite upset with what’s going on at the state level, to say the least, because if anyone looks at what is going on, whether we’re talking about major union contracts or any other kind of raise, nobody is getting more than 1 or 2%—3% is really high. So, for this body to think it has a right to grant a 27% raise in this day and age, with everything else falling down, I find really objectionable.”

A special commission was formed last year to determine the size of the raise that state judges should get, and the commission members voted four to three for the 27% figure. The three members who voted against it did so because they felt, after 14 years of no raises at all, 27% was not enough.

County attorney Sam Yasgur explained how the district attorney’s salary came to be tied to that of the county court judges. He said that, 30 years ago, the state passed a law that said boards of supervisors in counties the size of Sullivan could require a fulltime district attorney if they so desired, and the salary for that position must be at least as high as a county court judge, but could be higher if the county so desired. There was litigation over the requirement in the 1980s and it was upheld unanimously by the New York State Court of Appeals.