BY JOE MARVILLI
On Election Day, Queens voters will help determine if New York State judges can serve in the courts longer, increasing the maximum age to 80.
New York is one of 15 states in the nation that has a retirement age for judges, ending in their mid-70s at the latest. A proposed amendment to the State’s Constitution may adjust the standard though, giving justices of the State Supreme Court and judges of the Court of Appeals the opportunity to add more terms until they are 80 years old.
A Justice of the Supreme Court would be eligible for five additional two-year terms after the present retirement age of 70, instead of the currently-allowed three additional terms. Therefore, Supreme Court judges would have to retire at the age of 80, rather than 76.
A judge of the Court of Appeals would be permitted to remain on the Court for up to 10 years beyond the present retirement age of 70, in order to complete the term to which that judge was appointed. Each judge in the Court of Appeals must retire on the last day of December in the year he or she turns 80. The governor would not be able to appoint a judge who has reached the last day of December in the year which he or she hits the age of 70.
As part of applying for an extension, the justices would have to pass a health review and would be subject to hearings and testimonies from people who had dealt with them in the court recently.
There are hopes that increasing the age limit would help to mitigate the 31,000 cases pending in the State Supreme Court alone. According to the Hon. Jeremy Weinstein, administrative judge of the Queens County Supreme Court’s civil division, the Office of Court Administration requires courts to hear cases within 15 months from their filing date. Court filings have increased 56 percent in the last three decades.
“The volume we deal with is staggering. And having the ability to deal with it is more of a challenge with fewer resources,” Weinstein said.
According to the Office of Court Administration, around 40 judges who would be forced to retire in the next four years will be able to stay on the job if the amendment passes.
The number of cases in family courts has skyrocketed since a similar proposal to this one failed to pass in 1983. If judges are able to stay on longer, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman would dedicate the added manpower towards those cases, according to Dennis Hawkins, executive director of the Fund for Modern Courts.
Citizens Union, a nonprofit good government group, said this is not a sufficient way to deal with the overcrowding of family courts though, saying new judicial seats are needed, not transfers that include Supreme Court judges.
While it may seem like having more judges staying on the job longer would put pressure on an already tightly-funded system, Hawkins said the increase in payroll would come to about $10 million, equal to .06 percent of Lippman’s budget.
“If the only increase is .06, it really is not something that will break the bank,” Hawkins said.
While New York prohibited mandatory retirement in the private and public sectors in the 1980s, judges were left out of that ruling; a situation Hawkins said is unfair due to the lack of similar limits on the other branches of government.
“There’s no mandatory retirement age for the governor. There’s no mandatory retirement age for the legislatures,” he said. “There’s no reason why individuals in their late 70s who are capable can’t continue to operate in their judicial capacity.”
Citizens Union took the position that the changes actually do not go far enough, saying that the amendment is too selective in whose retirement age gets raised.
New Yorkers will vote on the proposal, along with five other referenda, during this year’s General Election on Nov. 5.
“The benefit of this is not to the judges and not to the attorney, but to the public,” Hawkins said. “When your case can be handled quickly and with fewer delays, you’ll be handed the justice you deserve.”
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joey788.