ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — 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 five 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 Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick this year and 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 the current law. He could stay into early 2023, when he would be approaching 78, if the referendum is approved. Judge Eugene Pigott Jr., 67, could stay three additional years and Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, 61, appointed this year, could get another five years on the court.
Judges would be barred from being reappointed to an additional term 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, best served by judges with both experience and years of wisdom. He said several judges were "at their best" when forced to retire.
New York State Trial Lawyers Association President Robert Danzi called the referendum a "common-sense approach" to improve the judiciary and urged voters to pass it, saying life expectancy has nearly doubled to almost 81 since the limits were established in 1869. The group noted that the state Senate voted 54-9 and the Assembly 117-25 to advance the proposal.
The constitutional amendment would also extend the mandatory retirement age for New York's main trial court to 80.
State Supreme Court justices can now get three two-year extensions beyond the mandatory retirement age of 70 — provided they get a certificate from an administrative board that they are mentally and physically able to do the work and are needed to expedite the court's business. The referendum would authorize up to five extensions.