“It feels very strange,” said Justice Ellen Gesmer, 70, who handles appeals in Manhattan and the Bronx. “I have never personally sued anyone before.”

The decision to oust the judges has drawn criticism from legal organizations, lawmakers and the state chapters of Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.

“It almost feels like a purge — I hate to put it that way,” said Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat who chairs the Assembly’s judiciary committee.

In a legal filing, the court administration said the judiciary, where labor costs make up 90 percent of the budget, was forced to develop an austerity plan after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, exercising emergency powers, ordered the judiciary to cut $300 million from its budget.

The state’s chief administrative judge, Lawrence Marks, has said the courts imposed a hiring freeze and took other steps aimed at avoiding layoffs. One of those measures was rejecting all but three of the judges seeking to serve past 70.

Had all 49 judges been extended, the system would have had to lay off 324 nonjudicial employees, like court officers and clerks, for at least a year to find equivalent savings, a courts spokesman, Lucian Chalfen, said.

“We need the clerks, we need the court officers,” he said. “Somebody has to sacrifice something.”

The three justices allowed to stay on, he said, had specialized caseloads or duties; one, for example, sat on the judicial conduct commission.



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