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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Méndez Nuñez: Pass salary increase for judges with no strings attached

Rep. Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Nuñez

By The Star Staff

The New Progressive Party minority leader in the House of Representatives, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Nuñez, demanded Wednesday that the House speaker, Rafael Hernández Montañez, respect the judicial branch, while rejecting an attempt to tie a salary increase for judges to increases in salaries for governors, legislators and agency heads.

Méndez Nuñez also called on Popular Democratic Party President Jesús Manuel Ortiz González, to convene his legislative conference to vote in favor of House Bill 1292 to raise judges’ salaries.

“The judicial branch, one of the three constitutional branches in our republican system of government, has to be respected,” the former House speaker said. “The president of the Supreme Court, Maite Oronoz, together with her team, negotiated with the Financial Oversight and Management Board a salary increase for judges, and the board endorsed it. Today that agreement is being embarrassed by an attempt to increase the salary of other officials, both in the executive and legislative branches, who have not asked for it. There is a separation of powers and it has to be respected.”

“Hijacking a branch of government, in this case the judiciary, just because you want to ‘evaluate’ an increase [in salary] for elected officials who have not, I repeat, have not asked for it, as well as the governor, who has not done so either, or the heads of agencies, is a mistake,” Méndez Nuñez stressed. “The Legislature has not negotiated salary increases for senators and representatives with the [oversight] board, nor has the executive [branch] negotiated with cabinet members; why then tie an agreement between the board and the judiciary to something that no one has asked for?”

The veteran lawmaker noted that the agreement reached between the oversight board and the judiciary for the salary increase for judges would collapse, leaving island jurists at the same level as several decades ago.

“The PDP president, who also chairs the PDP legislative conference, has another chance to do the right thing,” Méndez Nuñez said. “Remember that he did not do it with the appointment of Larry Seilhamer as secretary of state, we hope that on this occasion he will, respecting the agreement reached between the judicial branch and the [oversight] board, to do justice to employees who for more than two decades have not seen an adjustment in their salary compensation.”

Later on Wednesday, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia asked Hernández Montañez to step aside from the spotlight, in reaction to the House speaker’s determination to put on hold the bill to increase judges’ salaries because there was no agreement to increase the salaries of legislators, the governor and agency heads.

“I think that the issue of increasing judges’ pay should be addressed individually,” the governor said in response to questions from the press. “I see that conflicts are arising in the Legislature regarding the form and manner in which bills are addressed. But I think that we must put aside the protagonism, that we must give up, give in when it is for the public interest. There is no doubt here that judges in Puerto Rico have not received a raise for practically two decades and that it is important to have a judicial branch with competent people. It is difficult to recruit in the government, and when the pay is not adequate … and the judicial branch is very important.”

“It makes sense that there is particular legislation to address the demand for a salary increase for judges,” Pierluisi added. “I urge the speaker of the House to reconsider his position. I urge it with the greatest respect.”

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