State Senate proposes budget crackdown on controversial court perks

Call it the Janet DiFiore rule.

State courts will have to report data showing who gets taxpayer-funded security and chauffeurs or risk losing $10 million in vital funding, according to a budget resolution unveiled by State Senate Democrats Tuesday.

Legislators have expressed outrage in recent months following revelations about perks given to former Court of Appeals Chief Judge DiFiore before – and after – she resigned last summer under a cloud of scandal. 

“The court administration over the last decade has done untold damage to the integrity and reputation of our judicial branch,” Deputy State Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris told The Post Wednesday.

“It is critical that they are transparent and held accountable for their actions and this reporting provision will help make that possible.”

A budget resolution expected to pass the state Senate Thursday will require the courts to provide data showing who receives special perks and what they are costing taxpayers, with a potential $10 million penalty if the courts miss reporting deadlines.

While that amount might be a drop in the bucket considering the multi-billion budget of state courts – but it could cost the courts at least what it has spent on questionable perks in recent years.

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris has blasted at a Feb. 7 budget hearing a lack of transparency by state courts over taxpayer-funded perks for top judges.

DiFiore still had court officers assigned as bodyguards and drivers even though she was not longer a public employee, The Post reported in December.

The time commitment grew so large for some officers that their pay soared to roughly $150,000 per year after 15 to 20 hours of overtime per week got factored in, one source noted at the time.

A top courts official sitting at a desk at a hearing with wooden stuff in background
A top court official defended at the budget hearing drivers and security given to ex-Chief Judge Janet DiFiore after she left her post last year.

Court officials have refused to provide many details about the multi-million dollar arrangement while claiming at a recent budget hearing that DiFiore needed to be protected following threats to her life.

But Law360 reported that one of the threats came from someone who is now dead while a second supposedly dangerous Florida man stuck behind bars.

Janet Difiore sitting on the bench with a hand raised
Ex-Chief Judge Janet DiFiore was still getting taxpayer perks as of December despite leaving her job months before.

“There is a serious corruption problem within the Court of Appeals where judges are receiving public benefits and not reporting them,” Gianaris thundered at the budget hearing.

Law360 reported Tuesday that the first such report would be due June 1, which could reveal new details about the DiFiore detail, if the proposal gets included in the budget due April 1.

Neither the Assembly nor Gov. Kathy Hochul have publicly supported the proposal though the backing of Gianaris – the number two Democrat in his chamber – could nonetheless get the idea into the state budget.

State courts spokesman Lucia Chalfen responded: “Judicial threats have escalated over the past few years, not only directed to the former chief judge but to all judges. Anyone who understands how security works knows that the more it’s discussed the less effective it becomes.

“Chilling threats, actual actions like sending letters and unidentified substances leading to a federal conviction of a defendant on a threat to the chief judge is one recent example. Others have led to NYPD intervention for New York City judges on a number of occasions. Using this to make a point can have serious consequences.”