N.Y. Voters Could Push Top Judges’ Retirement to 80

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman speaks at the Court of Appeals in Albany in 2011. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman speaks at the Court of Appeals in Albany in 2011. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Judges could remain on the state’s highest court until they turn 80 years old if New York voters approve a referendum Nov. 5 to increase the age limit by a decade. Approval would postpone mandatory retirement for four of the seven judges currently on the Court of Appeals, who are appointed to 14-year terms.

“I love the job. I’d be delighted to keep it,” said Judge Robert Smith, 69, who would be able to serve for another three years if the referendum is approved, rather than being forced to retire after next year.

Smith has seen colleagues forced to retire by the end of the year that they turn 70, including Chief Judge Judith Kaye in 2009. Smith noted Kaye has had a successful law practice since.

“In fact, anyone I can remember who reached the age limit, I don’t think anyone would say they’re losing the power to do the job,” Smith said. “Long experience is good for judges.”

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, 68, who joined the court in 2009, would have to retire at the end of 2015 under current law. He could stay into early 2023, when he would be approaching 78, if the referendum is approved. Judges would be barred from being reappointed after turning 70.

Vincent Bonventre, a professor at Albany Law School, said that the Court of Appeals is “one of the great courts in American history” and often leads the way for federal and other state courts. He said several judges were “at their best” when forced to retire.

The amendment would also extend the mandatory retirement age for the main trial court to 80. State Supreme Court justices can now get three two-year extensions — provided they get a certificate that they are mentally and physically able to do the. The referendum would authorize up to five extensions.

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