Two more Pa. judges join suit challenging mandatory judiciary retirement age

By Jon Campisi | Nov 30, 2012

Additional Pennsylvania judges have apparently joined in on the litigation challenging the

commonwealth’s mandatory retirement age for the state judiciary.

The Legal Intelligencer recently reported that Fayette County Common Pleas President Judge Gerald Solomon and Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Arthur Tilson filed their own complaint in Commonwealth Court this week challenging the provision in Pennsylvania’s constitution that all judges must retire at the end of the year in which they turn 70.

William T. Hangley, one of the attorneys representing the two new plaintiffs, confirmed to the Legal Intelligencer that his clients filed suit.

A copy of the actual complaint was not immediately readily available.

On Nov. 14, six judges filed suit in Commonwealth Court, alleging that the mandatory retirement age as laid out in the commonwealth constitution violates their rights under the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Those original judges are being represented by nationally acclaimed trial lawyer Robert Heim of the firm Dechert LLP.

The plaintiffs named in the original complaint are Judge John W. Herron, administrative judge of the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court’s trial division; Senior Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner; Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Sandra Mazer Moss, who previously oversaw the court’s mass tort program; John Driscoll, the administrative judge of Westmoreland County’s Juvenile Court; and Joseph D. O’Keefe, administrative judge of the First Judicial District’s Orphans’ Court Division.

The First Judicial District is Philadelphia’s court system, and comprises the Court of Common Pleas, Municipal Court and Traffic Court.

The plaintiffs are seeking to have Commonwealth Court nullify and declare invalid Article V, Section 16 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which requires all justices and judges in the state to retire by the end of the calendar year in which they turn 70 years old.

All judges in Pennsylvania are elected by voters.

Trial and appellate court judges serve 10-year terms while Philadelphia Municipal Court judges, Traffic Court judges and state magisterial district judges are elected to six-year terms.

The original complaint had said that in the face of an increasing caseload in Pennsylvania courts, it is “unlikely that civil cases could be adjudicated within a reasonable time period or that the Speedy Trial Act in criminal cases would be complied with, without the services of judges over seventy years of age.”

That suit also took issue with the “senior judge” designation, which is a term used for judges over 70 who are specially assigned by the state Supreme Court to serve in temporary judicial service roles.

The plaintiffs take issue with the senior judge status because said jurists make less money than judges under age 70 who can still serve full-time.

The original lawsuit goes on to state that the mandatory retirement provision “unfairly and arbitrarily deprives Pennsylvania justices and judges of their employment solely on the basis of age, rather than on the basis of any rational or reasonable test of physical, mental, or professional ability, contrary to federal law as set out in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

The defendants named in the lawsuits are Gov. Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol T. Aichele, state Treasurer Rob McCord and state Court Administrator Zygmont A. Pines.

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