By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The New York State Constitution may be amended in November to allow state judges to remain on the bench past the age of 70 -- a change supported by many in the legal community.
Currently, state judges appointed to the bench must retire at the age of 70. This requirement forced Appellate Division Justice Anita Florio to step down from the bench last year. Florio began her term as an Appellate Division justice in 1994 — appointed to the bench by former New York State Gov. Mario Cuomo and reappointed by current New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“When you have been appointed by the father and then reappointed by the son, you know it is time for you to leave the bench,” Florio joked at a Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association event in 2012.
Elected judges, on the other hand, are allowed to remain through the age of 76 as long as they are mentally competent and physically able to serve. The proposed constitutional amendment will essentially allow appointed and elected judges to remain on the bench until the age of 80.
“This constitutional amendment is the most significant proposed change affecting our state’s judiciary in 40 years,” Hon. Lawrence Knipel, administrative judge for civil matters, 2nd Judicial District, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
“It will be a double win for New York,” Knipel continued, explaining that “firstly, the most experienced judges will be permitted to preside for additional years (at no extra cost). Secondly, taxpayers will save substantial pension costs because senior judges will begin collecting pensions at 80 instead of 70 or 76 years of age.”
The present retirement age disparity often leads some sitting judges to run for a state Supreme Court position in order to remain on the bench until age 76. Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice William Miller ran for an elected position in 2012 for that every reason. “There’s a mandatory retirement age for New York judges,” Miller told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle during an interview after his election win. “I hope to stay on the bench as long as I can,” Miller said as he turned 70.
The proposed amendment will bring New York closer to the model of the federal courts. The U.S. Constitution allows federal judges to hold their offices through good behavior, essentially allowing for lifetime appointments. For federal district judges, such as those who serve in the Brooklyn federal courthouse on Cadman Plaza East, Congress enacted the “Rule of 80” for the age and service requirement for a judge to assume senior status.
Beginning at age 65, a federal district judge may retire at his or her current salary or take senior status after performing 15 years of active service. As a judge increases in age past 70, his or her workload begins to decrease as each year passes.
As to the proposed age increase for New York State judges, some prefer that status on the bench be deemed by merit as opposed to age. “I would prefer a merit-based system rather than age and election,” said Brooklyn attorney Andrew Miller. “But I have no problem with the increase in the age so long as it is someone who merits staying on the bench.”
Knipel emphasized that the proposed amendment is “truly a win-win for New York voters.”