New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on Friday said he’s proud of his efforts to lift the state’s mandatory retirement age for certain judges, though he denied any relationship to a political action committee that has raised money to push the issue.
In an interview with Gannett’s Albany Bureau, Lippman said he met with a number of groups — lawyers, clergy and editorial boards, among others — and urged them to support the amendment, which would lift the age limit from 70 to 80 for Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court judges.
But he said he had no role in the creation or management of Justice for All, a lawyer-backed PAC that has spent $371,000 on direct mailers and print advertisements supporting the ballot measure. Capital New York reported Friday that Lippman had urged his associates to form the PAC, citing unnamed attorneys familiar with the effort.
“I had nothing to do with whatever the name of that group is,” Lippman said. “That was formed by lawyers. I have nothing to do with that in any way. My job is to speak out on issues of the administration of justice and I’m not going to hesitate to do that, whether it’s to lawyers, the clergy, whatever the group might be.”
The proposed amendment — Proposition 6 on your Nov. 5 ballot — would allow Court of Appeals judges to finish serving their 14-year terms until they turn 80. Supreme Court justices would be able to serve until 80 but would have to submit to a health certification every two years.
Lippman said the best argument for the amendment may be the age of the current age restriction. The current limit was authored as part of the state Constitution in 1869, some 144 years ago.
He pointed to former Chief Judge Judith Kaye, who was forced to leave the bench in 2008 but has since been actively sought for high-profile investigations and commissions.
“We need experienced, wise judges on the bench,” Lippman said. “Judges get to the bench later in life, they hit their peak later in life and it is so counterproductive to make judges who are at the height of their power leave the bench.”
The amendment is being opposed by Citizens Union, a good-government group, that has raised concerns about its uniformity.
Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wouldn’t take a position on the ballot. Cuomo had expressed concerns that it could allow for more judges to collect both a salary and pension, but the court system later said it would put an end to the practice.
If it fails, Cuomo would have the opportunity to appoint an additional five judges to the Court of Appeals if he wins a second term. Along with the two he has already appointed, it would mean the entire seven-judge panel would be filled with Cuomo appointees.
(AP file photo)