Debating Age Limits for Judges

Monday, November 04, 2013


Milton L. Williams, Jr., chair of the Fund and Committee for Modern Courts, partner at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, and currently serving as co-chair of the Moreland Act Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, and Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, debate the New York ballot proposal 6 to raise the age limit for appeals court judges to 80.

How The Question Is Framed on the Ballot

The proposed amendment to the Constitution, amending sections 2 and 25 of article 6, would increase the maximum age until which certain state judges may serve as follows: (a) a Justice of the Supreme Court would be eligible for five additional two-year terms after the present retirement age of 70, instead of the three such terms currently authorized; and (b) a Judge of the Court of Appeals who reaches the age of 70 while in office would be permitted to remain in service on the Court for up to 10 years beyond the present retirement age of 70 in order to complete the term to which that Judge was appointed. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?


Dick Dadey and Milton Williams, Jr.

Comments [10]

Bob from Westchester, NY

@ Laura: Again, I didn't say Mr. Williams was disqualified from speaking out; I said I thought he should disclose his personal relationship to and experience with the issue. You cite the Webdale family to support your argument, but they clearly disclosed their personal interest -- to the point where they approved the law being named after their daughter!

Sorry I hit such a sore point with you. We will have to agree to disagree, and both vote our points of view tomorrow.

Nov. 04 2013 12:47 PM

@Bob from Westchester: As I'm sure you're aware, federal judges are appointed for life. Judge Milton Pollack served until he was 98 and was, in fact, the smartest judge on the Southern District bench until the day he died. There are judges of all abilities up and down the age range; mandatory retirement is a blunderbuss that does nothing to assure the quality of judges on the bench. I'm sure any lawyer here can name 45-year-old judges who have no business being near a courthouse, much less a bench.

And as you appear to now concede, there's no conflict in Mr. Williams' supporting proposition 6. Most people who publicly support an issue have some bias because they've been affected in some way; for better or worse, the legislative system is driven largely by people who have a personal stake in a particular issue (far more than Mr. Williams does, btw). That Mr. Williams' father was affected by the mandatory retirement age doesn't disqualify Mr. Williams from speaking out on the issue any more than Kendra Webdale's parents should have been disqualified from speaking about involuntary treatment for the mentally ill. Certainly Mr. Williams' interest in this issue is far more attenuated than the Webdales' was, and I see no reason he should have had to "disclose" his father's status.

Nov. 04 2013 11:42 AM
NYC Savvy from NYC

I work for the court system in a courtroom daily.This is such a phoney and misleading proposition,the judges this would effect INCLUDING Judge Lippman himself don't want to leave. There exists an abundance of qualified attorneys to fill positions that would open up but unfortunately these older judges just don't want to go. In fact most end up double dipping by collecting a sizeable pension AND a full annual salary.
The family court is NOT a part of the supreme court or is it staffed by supreme court judges so NONE of the judges this proposition would serve extend the age limit for would be assigned there.
Ironically by far the most over loaded, hard working, over burdened judges sit in the lower courts of NYC, the family court and housing court, and their salaries are the lowest of all. They work too hard to spend time and money hiring a public relations firm like the supreme court judges did to publicize/champion their non-existent plight.
Doesn't this remind you of the district attorneys Robert Morgenthau and Charles Hynes? Neither wanted to leave their position thinking/claiming they too were irreplaceable? In their own minds only....

Nov. 04 2013 11:36 AM
Bob from Westchester, NY

@ Laura: Since you asked, the Housing Court judge I referenced is in his late sixties. Since he thinks he is as sharp as he was as 40-year old, and retains all the arrogance without the mental acuity, the only hope of getting him out and saving the people forced to appear before him is mandatory retirement.

Also, Judge Williams was famously and loudly unhappy when he was subject to mandatory retirement due to age, which arguably influences his son's position on the matter (even after 5 years). It doesn't disqualify Mr. Williams from speaking out, but it would have been better form for him to disclose - even using it as a positive example for his position.

Nov. 04 2013 11:15 AM
Bob from Westchester, NY

Judges aging like fine "Fine Wine"?!!! Give me a break. People don't age like wine, unfortunately. (I wish they did.) Decline is inevitable, both physical and cognitive, and the person suffering cognitive decline is often the last person to recognize it.

When drivers get too old to drive safely, we are encouraged to "have the talk" and take away their keys before they injure someone else. Judges aging towards incompetence will also eventually injure someone, so they too should lose the keys to the courtroom before they cause irreparable damage to those forced to appear before them.

Also, when did holding a public office for life a right? CEOs of public companies are subject to a mandatory retirement age; are judges less important?

Nov. 04 2013 10:51 AM

@Bob from Westchester That's a very nice anecdote but doesn't really add anything to the discussion since for all we know, the judge in question was 61.

Mr. Williams's father, btw, retired five years ago -- not exactly "recently" -- and I don't see how that creates a conflict anyway; it's not as though if the measure passes Judge Williams will be able to go back onto the bench. So where's the "conflict"?

Nov. 04 2013 10:50 AM
Amy from Manhattan

1. Having a mandatory retirement age may be agist? No, it *is* agist.

2. To whatever extent Supreme Court justices are out of touch with "the people," it's more because of their financial & social situation than because of their age.

Nov. 04 2013 10:47 AM
Ken from new york

The last thing we need is a judge not in touch with society. Family court needs more than judges have you ever been to Family Court? It is like stepping back in time they have their own rules and own laws half of which are so out of touch with our constitution.

Nov. 04 2013 10:44 AM
Bob from Westchester, NY

Having spent much time in NYC Housing Court over the past few years with a judge who clearly had aged beyond the ability to remember basic facts of the case for more than two minutes, yet still kept proclaiming he was the smartest person in the room (if not the entire court house), please DON'T make it worse by allowing judges with fading minds more time to determine for themselves when they become incompetent.

Also, Mr. Williams has an unspoken conflict -- his father was recently forced to retire under these rules.

Nov. 04 2013 10:42 AM

I have very little in common with a 79 year old
Take a break and let someone else play

This goes for the senators for life and c hynes

Nov. 04 2013 10:33 AM

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