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La. voters to decide whether to retire the age limit for judges

It is said that people are living longer, and often we hear 50 is the new 30. Soon, Louisiana voters will get to decide if age restrictions for judges should become a thing of the past.

In state courts around Louisiana, age is more than just a number for those on the bench. Louisiana law mandates that judges retire at age 70 if their term is complete, and people who are 70 cannot run for a judgeship.

"No, I don't think there should be an age limit on judges. No, maybe the older the wiser, possibly," said voter Robin McCoy.

"If there could be some type of basis, or some type of test that can prove his efforts, prove his competence as a judge, I don't see where that's a problem," said Emile Vick, another voter.

"I care for a lot of older patients who are older than 70 and are very well with it, very intellectually capable, as well as visibly capable," said Dani Rafferty, another voter.

District Court judges like those at the Orleans Parish criminal courthouse on Tulane Avenue serve six-year terms, while state Appellate Court and Supreme Court judges have 10-year terms. This November, there is a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to strip away the age limit for state judges. The Legislature voted to put it on the fall ballot.

Loyola Law School Professor Dane Ciolino discussed the issue.

"Some people kind of thought that the way the Constitution is presently structured was a bit arbitrary, because if a judge happens to turn 70 during his or her term, she or he could stay on until the end of the term. That means that some judges would be retiring shortly after their 70th birthday, some could retire closer to their 80th birthday," he said.

"People ought to be judged on their ability to serve and their competency, not on how old they are," said State Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner who sits on the Judiciary Committee in the state Senate.

Martiny believes the age restriction ends up costing the state more money in the long run because oftentimes judges who are forced to retire at 70 are called back on an ad hoc basis. He said that is the case with one of his friends.

"They're paying his retirement, plus they're paying him to sit on the bench," Martiny said.

The National Center for State Courts says 32 states have some form of mandatory retirement age for judges. And 21, including Louisiana, have 70 as the retirement age.

However, some states are far more generous. For instance, in Vermont the retirement age is 90. While 18 states place no age limit at all.

"The states are mixed across the nation as to whether term limits should be imposed on judges," said Ciolino.

But at federal court in New Orleans and federal courts around the country there is no retirement age for the judges who are appointed to the bench as opposed to being elected.

"In the federal system, judges can serve until their deaths without any age limitation imposed whatsoever. It's not uncommon to see United States Supreme Court justices serve well into their 70s and 80s," said Ciolino.

Recently, longtime New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Frank Marullo won a court challenge that  sought to bar his bid for re-election because he is 74 years old. Marullo said he took the bench before the current restrictions took effect.

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