Politics is behind increasing judges’ retirement age
Democratic legislators are resurrecting a constitutional amendment to increase state judges' mandatory retirement age to 80 years.
HAWAII voters two years ago rejected a constitutional elimination of judges' mandatory retirement age, seeing it as a Democratic ploy to prevent Republican Gov. Linda Lingle from appointing replacements for new retirees. Democratic legislators again are pushing such a partisan amendment
in this year's session, ignoring serious proposals to conduct a study of potential changes in the judicial retirement system.
The proposed amendment rejected in the 2006 election by 58 percent to 35 percent would have eliminated the retirement age of 70 for all judges. Voters recognized that it was motivated to allow judges reaching that age to postpone their retirements until Lingle is out of office three years from now.
The new proposal, which would increase the retirement age to 80, has the same purpose. Drawing particular attention is Chief Justice Ronald Moon, whose 70th birthday comes four months before Lingle is due to leave Washington Place.
Resolutions that would create a task force to study the issue appear to be dead on arrival in the Legislature, but such a study is needed to determine how best to retain jurists beyond a certain age. Successive task forces assembled by the New York Bar Association have been examining the issue for the past decade.
In New York, state judges are required to retire at age 70, with the exception of judges in the state's most powerful trial courts, where approval by a certification program every two years can extend their terms at the bench until age 78. A bar task force recommended in 1999 that the retirement age of 70 be changed to 78 for a limited group of judges with reduced caseloads and reduced pay.
A second task force of the New York bar last March urged making the retirement age 76 for all judges approved by the certification process, ensuring that the judge is fit to serve and fills a need for his or her continued service.
Clearly, men and women enjoy productive lifespans beyond the retirement ages of past decades, but that can vary greatly. New York's first task force recommended an evaluation panel measuring 70-plus judges' physical and mental competence, legal scholarship, productivity, temperament, work ethic and complaints about judicial misconduct.
Hawaii should take similar care before changing the mandatory retirement age for judges. The obvious reason Democratic legislators are not willing to take the time to examine the issue is that Lingle would nominate judges to fill vacancies caused by retirement in the meantime.
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