Civil justice group says 'right decision, wrong author' in court's mandatory retirement age decision

Chris Rizo Jun. 24, 2009, 4:00pm

Ed Murnane

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - The Illinois Supreme Court's recent ruling against a mandatory state law barring judges from running for retention after age 75 has drawn criticism from the state's leading civil justice group.

The Illinois high court last week ruled in favor of Cook County William Maddux, 74, who argued that state law should not keep him from running for retention after he turns 75.

Maddux is the presiding judge of the law division of Cook County Circuit Court. His current judicial term expires in fall 2010.

The state's Compulsory Retirement of Judges Act says that a jurist is "automatically retired at the expiration of the term in which the judge attains the age of 75."

The law would have allowed Maddux to run in a contested election in which his name would appear in a long list of judicial aspirants.

The state Supreme Court ruled that the law discriminates against judges who turned 75 on the bench because they would be barred from seeking election because person who was never a judge and was older than 75 could run.

"The judicial article allows for the General Assembly to enact mandatory judicial retirement legislation; however, the plain language of the specific legislation that has been enacted pursuant to the constitution violates equal protection. Moreover, as it is written, it allows certain judges to avoid mandatory retirement," Justice Charles Freeman wrote in the court's 4-2 opinion.

The Illinois Civil Justice League said it generally agrees with the ruling, but it questions why the court's majority opinion was written by Freeman, whose 10-year term on the Court expires next year.

Before the ruling, Freeman would not be eligible to seek retention in 2010. But because of the opinion he wrote, he is eligible to seek another ten-year-term at the current annual salary of about $190,000, the ICJL said.

"Is it a ruling that has a direct and personal benefit to Justice Freeman? It certainly could be viewed that way and it's puzzling why the court did not recognize the potential appearance of conflict of interest," ICJL President Ed Murnane said.

Murnane wrote a commentary about the decision, "Right decision, wrong author."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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