State Bar Calls for Increasing Retirement Age for Judges Across the State
Association Again Takes the Lead in Addressing Age Discrimination in the Legal Profession
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March 22, 2007
A special task force of the New York State Bar Association, created by Association President Mark H. Alcott (Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP) and chaired by former State Chief Administrative Judge E. Leo Milonas (Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP), has issued a report calling for an increase in the mandatory retirement age for New York State judges to 76.
Under current law, judges of the Court of Appeals - - New York’s highest court, and most trial courts must retire at age 70. The only exception is for justices of the Supreme Court, New York’s most powerful trial court, who may remain on the bench until age 76 if approved in a certification process every two years starting at age 70. The Task Force urged reform of the current policy, expressing its preference for one finite retirement age -- 76 -- for all state judges at the trial and appellate level. The report also calls for a uniform certification process that would apply evenly to all judges over the age of 70, with the exception of the Court of Appeals, whose justices would not require certification.
Ending age discrimination in the legal profession, in both the private and public sectors, is one of the top agenda items Mr. Alcott is pursuing during his term as president. In endorsing the Task Force report, Mr. Alcott said: “It makes no sense to impose this mandatory retirement policy on state court judges when no other government officials - - including federal judges - - are subject to such a requirement. And it is especially shortsighted to require them to leave at age 70, at a time when the productive healthy lifespan of most Americans extends well beyond that age. We have lost the services of many talented and experienced judges because of this policy.”
Instituting a mandatory retirement policy at 76 would require no major restructuring of the court system and would fit well with and enhance court reorganization proposals soon to be considered and debated, the Task Force said. The Task Force also posited that extending the certification process provides a two-pronged safety valve, ensuring that: a) the judge seeking to continue is fit for service and b) there be a need for his/her continued service.
Implicitly recognizing that additional reforms might be proposed in the future, the Task Force stated that “reform should be done in stages, not all at once.”
Governor Eliot Spitzer has publicly expressed his support for reforming the policy mandating retirement of most judges at 70.
This is the second time in recent months that the Association has called for reform of mandatory retirement policies within the legal profession. In January, Mr. Alcott released the findings of a special committee he established to examine age-related retirement policies of law firms in the wake of an unprecedented number of ‘baby-boom’ attorneys entering their sixties.
Upon releasing the committee’s findings, Mr. Alcott said the practice of mandating retirement among attorneys in private law firms was “both unwarranted and unwise.” He noted that “a lawyer’s age, standing alone, is not an appropriate criterion for determining professional capacity or employment status.” Mr. Alcott challenged law firms to abolish mandatory retirement policies.
Both reports are subject to the approval of the Association’s House of Delegates, which will consider them on March 31.
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