HARRISBURG A second judge in two days has filed a lawsuit challenging the Legislature's repeal of a controversial pay raise.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- A second judge in as many days challenged the Legislature's repeal of the pay-raise law as unconstitutional yesterday.
The litigation is likely to prolong a controversy most legislators are anxious to put behind them.
Both challenges revolve around a passage in the state constitution designed to prevent the Legislature from docking the pay of judges as punishment for unfavorable rulings, and both ask the state's appellate courts to reinstate pay raises for the more than 1,000 state judges.
In a joint statement, the judges who filed the challenges emphasized provisions in the pay-raise bill that tied the future salary increases of state judges to their federal counterparts, arguing that the change removed the potential for a conflict of interest by taking judicial compensation out of lawmakers' hands.
"We earnestly believe that the public interest is served by restoration of the judicial salary increase and elimination of the dependence of the judiciary on the Legislature for pay increases in the future," Judges John W. Herron and Albert W. Sheppard Jr. said in the statement Tuesday.
Herron, 61, and Sheppard, 68, are both county judges in Philadelphia. Sheppard filed the first challenge to the three-week-old repeal in the Supreme Court on Monday, asking to reinstate the pay raises for all three branches of government. Yesterday, Herron asked the lower Commonwealth Court to revive just the judicial raises, although he asked the Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction over it.
In their statement, the judges warned that other challenges to the repeal are likely to be filed "shortly," further thrusting judges into the awkward role of ruling on their own paychecks.
If the seven-member Supreme Court takes up the matter, it will do so without its chief justice, Ralph J. Cappy, who has recused himself from considering challenges to the pay raise. Cappy publicly lauded the pay raise after its July passage, and has acknowledged that he lobbied for it.
The law boosted the salaries of more than 1,300 judges, lawmakers and senior executive branch officials. The judges, from district magistrates to Supreme Court justices, saw their pay increase by 11 percent to 15 percent, while lawmakers received pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent.
Four months of thunderous public anger over the pay raises focused on lawmakers, who passed the measure in the dead of night on July 7 without debate or public hearings. The vote to repeal the law came amid widespread concern that the issue might cost many incumbent legislators their seats in next year's elections.
Challenges to the repeal have been expected since lawmakers began considering rescinding the pay raises in early November. The repeal became law on Nov. 16, but it was delayed for two weeks by a bitter dispute between the House and Senate over the constitutionality of repealing the judicial pay raise, and how to ward off a legal challenge.
Spokesmen for the Legislature's Republican leaders insisted that the repeal was constitutional. A leading proponent of the repeal, Sen. Sean Logan, D-Allegheny, noted "strong" language written into the legislation makes clear that the repeal did not intend to punish judges.
"We've done everything we can humanly do and we hope the Supreme Court honors that intention," Logan said.
One constitutional law expert, professor Bruce Ledewitz of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, contended that the repeal was unconstitutional. But, he said, the state officials who are named in the lawsuits can win the case if they argue in court that the original July pay hike also was unconstitutional.
"If the pay raise was unconstitutional, and I think it was," Ledewitz said, "then the repeal was valid."