NY's Ex-Chief Judge Kept State-Funded Perks After Resigning

(November 30, 2022, 9:28 PM EST) -- For months after her resignation, former New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has benefited from state-funded court officers working as her personal chauffeurs and protection detail — services that previous chiefs did not receive after they left office.

DiFiore, who stepped down in late August while facing unrelated judicial misconduct charges, is not entitled to such perks, according to state court policies on the permitted use of state vehicles enacted during her own administration. DiFiore ceased being a state employee on Aug. 31, according to the state comptroller's office.

"Personal use of a state vehicle is prohibited," a 2018 state court policy memo states. "A state vehicle may be used only for official state business."

The memo further states that "a state vehicle may never be used to transport passengers unless they are state employees engaged in official business or non-state employees engaged in official business with state employees."

Yet the former chief judge continues to enjoy access to a daily car service by a rotating team of on-duty court officers, according to sources. Law360 observed two court officers out of uniform waiting outside her luxury Westchester apartment complex by a black car earlier this month. DiFiore exited her residence and climbed into the back seat of the black SUV before it drove away.

State courts spokesperson Lucian Chalfen said there were no violations of court rules, but declined to elaborate.

"While we do not discuss security arrangements, the type and level of security is determined by law enforcement personnel in our Department of Public Safety, not individual Judges," Chalfen said."Unfortunately, but not surprisingly in the current environment, the determination was made in this situation that a continued presence is necessary for the former Chief Judge."

Chalfen declined to answer follow-up questions about whether any record of a security assessment exists and what the justifications were for DiFiore's arrangements. He also declined to say whether any other former judges received similar benefits.

Former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman did not receive a court officer detail after his resignation in 2015, according to sources familiar with his arrangements, and neither did former Chief Judge Judith Kaye upon her departure in 2008.

A source with personal knowledge of their work assignments identified the two officers are as currently among the ex-judge's regular drivers who were previously assigned to DiFiore while she was in office. Including overtime, the two made nearly $300,000 combined in 2021, payroll records show.

While it's unclear what the total cost of DiFiore's detail is to taxpayers, the two officers seen on full-time duty have an annual pay rate of more than $87,000 each per year, before overtime. Any other officer on the detail would be expected to make around the same, perhaps slightly less, according to a pay schedule reviewed by Law360 and sources familiar with the work.

The officers' three months of work since DiFiore resigned would then cost taxpayers an estimated $43,000 on the low end — solely for the officers' time.

According to state court policy, car service must be approved by the chief administrative judge, the deputy to Acting Chief Judge Anthony Cannataro.

DiFiore first announced plans to resign as chief judge on July 11, offering scant details for why she was stepping down before the end of her term. Law360 then revealed that she was facing ethics charges by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct alleging she sought to tip the scales against a critic in his disciplinary case.

The ethics charges against DiFiore were effectively closed this fall, Law360 reported earlier this week, due to her resignation.

DiFiore declined to comment.

--Editing by Michael Watanabe.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Ask a question!