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Sun Gazette: Del. Hope Continues to Press for Higher Retirement Age for Judges Print


Created:  Friday, March 15, 2013  11:51AM

Del. Patrick Hope continues to scratch his head over a quirk in Virginia law that pushes judges off the bench in what might be the prime of their careers.

Hope (D-47th) has championed measures to change the current mandatory retirement age for judges, which requires that jurists leave the bench the month of their 70th birthday.

“As you get older in years, you get wiser,” Hope said at a forum sponsored by Leadership Arlington, noting with dismay that the effort to increase the mandatory retirement age to 73 has never gained traction in Richmond.

The proposal to add three years to the retirement age “freaks people out, and [I] can’t figure out why,” said Hope, an attorney.

In 2011, Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Kendrick hit the 70-year mark and was forced off the local bench despite having the desire to continue serving. In fact, Kendrick has continued serving – being active as a substitute judge across local court systems, which is allowed under state law.

Under state law, judges are selected – “elected” is the official term – by the General Assembly for fixed terms of eight years for Circuit Court and six years for General District Court. But if a judge hits the age limit during his or her term, a vacancy is created – then the General Assembly must not only elect a new judge, but first agree to fund the vacant position, a time-consuming process that leaves some positions unfilled for months or longer.

While some other state governments impose similar age restrictions on the judiciary, there is no mandatory retirement age for federal judges. U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, an Arlington resident, served until he was past 90, and U.S. District Court Judge Wesley Brown continued hearing cases in Kansas until his death in 2012 at the age of 104.