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Sun Gazette: Bill to Increase Retirement Age for Judges Loses Round in Richmond Print


Created:  Friday, January 20, 2012  8:00AM

A measure from Del. Patrick Hope to raise the mandatory retirement age for Virginia judges from 70 to 73 became one of the first victims of the legislative meat-grinder in the 2012 General Assembly session.

The measure died on a 4-4 tie in a House Courts of Justice subcommittee. Two Republicans and two Democrats voted to support it, four Republicans opposed it and a Democrat abstained.

"Mandatory judicial retirement is based on the outdated assumption that increasing age carries with it declining intellectual ability," Hope (D-47th) told the Sun Gazette when the measure was introduced. "The truth is, the legislature needs to do a better job of making sure judges on the bench are competent, and not rely on an artificial trigger that really has nothing to do with performance."

Judges on Virginia's courts are "elected" by the General Assembly for terms of six or eight years, depending on the court. But judges must depart the bench when they reach the mandated retirement age.

And that could be the reason behind the failure of Republicans to get behind the measure. Many judges first elected when the legislature was in Democratic hands are now bumping up against the retirement age, and Republicans may have little interest in allowing them to stick around three more years.

Hope said he may try to resurrect the bill later in the session.

The mandatory retirement age hit Arlington's judicial ranks a year ago, when Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Kendrick was forced to retire upon turning 70. Kendrick had no desire to retire; in fact, he continues to serve as a substitute judge in courtrooms across Northern Virginia.

The federal judiciary has no retirement age for most of its judges. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens – an Arlington resident – served past his 90th birthday before retiring in mid-2010. U.S. District Court Senior Judge Wesley Brown continues to hear cases in Kansas at age 104.