Federal judge allows Pa. judicial retirement age case to proceed first in state court

By Jon Campisi | Apr 9, 2013

A federal judge in Harrisburg has decided to stay a case brought by a handful of state

judges against the commonwealth over claims that the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age violates their state and federal constitutional rights.

In an April 3 order, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, III, sitting in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, stayed the case of Senior Judge Benjamin Lerner et al. v. Thomas W. Corbett et al. for 90 days while a similar action makes its way through state court.

Lerner, a senior judge from Philadelphia, and other jurists are suing the state, Governor Tom Corbett, and Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol T. Aichele over allegations that a provision in the state’s constitution mandating all judges retire by the end of the year in which they turn 70 violates their federal constitutional rights.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently agreed to fast track a similar case playing out in state court.

The lead plaintiff in that case is Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Arthur Tilson.

Just last week, the high court granted an application for extraordinary relief filed by Tilson seeking to hear oral arguments in the case in an expedited manner.

Jones, the U.S. District Judge overseeing the federal case, wrote in his order that he will stay the case for 90 days “in order to conserve the resources of the Court and counsel and permit the parties to focus their efforts on the approaching oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Tilson.”

Both the state and federal cases, Jones wrote, raise constitutional claims that mirror each other.

“That action and this one, metaphorically, are two trains proceeding on parallel tracks and, with the recent scheduling of oral argument before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Tilson train is rapidly pulling ahead,” Jones wrote.

His decision to stay the case came after a phone conference call with the parties involved in the litigation.

The judge said he would re-examine the federal case pending the 90-day stay period.

Jones scheduled a follow-up conference call for July 2.

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