Senators are deaf to rejection of raising judge’s retirement age
The state Senate has approved a constitutional amendment that would raise the mandatory retirement age of judges from 70 years old to 80.
DESPITE voters' rejection in the 2006 election, Democratic legislators again are pushing for a constitutional amendment
aimed to prevent Gov. Linda Lingle from nominating the next chief justice. Voters saw through the proposal to eliminate judges' mandatory retirement age, recognizing that its purpose was to allow Chief Justice Ronald Moon to remain on the job until Lingle has left office.
Moon will turn 70 years old on Sept. 10, 2010, three months before Lingle's second and final term comes to an end, and is required by the state Constitution to retire at that age. He must notify the Judicial Selection Commission six months in advance, setting in motion the commission's procedure to prepare a list of four to six candidates from which Lingle would nominate her choice to submit to the state Senate.
In anticipation of that, the 2006 Legislature passed a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the retirement age requirement, but it was rejected by 58 percent to 35 percent of voters at the ballot box later that year.
Productive lifespans have increased in recent decades, and that should be recognized in determining mandatory retirement ages for public officials. Two task forces in the New York bar have recommended in the past decade that retirement ages for judges be increased, with certification processes created to assure fitness to serve.
In Hawaii, the state bar association has made no similar effort to deal with issues such as physical and mental competence, legal scholarship and productivity, which were addressed in the most recent task force recommendations submitted a year ago in New York. The only issue at stake in Hawaii appears to be whether to prevent a Republican governor from selecting the chief justice for the first time in more than 40 years.
The Senate has approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would raise the mandatory requirement age to 80. Sen. Brian Taniguchi, the Senate judiciary chairman, acknowledges that it will be "an uphill battle" to gain House approval, given the voters' rejection of the 2006 proposal.
Attorney General Mark Bennett is mentioned as a possible candidate for chief justice, although he told the Star-Bulletin's Ken Kobayashi that his present plans are to return to private law practice or teach after Lingle leaves office, but those plans may change. Another possible candidate is Mark Recktenwald, named by Lingle to the Intermediate Court of Appeals last year.
If legislators are serious about lifting or increasing the retirement age of judges, they should review the New York task force findings and ask the Hawaii bar to conduct a similar study. At this point, the proposed amendment reeks of brazen partisan politics.