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Pa. SC assumes jurisdiction of third suit over mandatory retirement age for judges

By Jessica M. Karmasek | May 13, 2013

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline) -- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in an order last week, said it will take control of a third lawsuit, filed in state court, challenging the state's mandatory retirement age for judges.

The state's high court filed its one-page, per curiam order Friday.

In it, the court said it will assume plenary jurisdiction over Friedman v. Corbett, explaining that there is "substantial overlap" among the issues presented in it and two other cases that have already been accepted by it for review, Driscoll v. Corbett et al. and Tilson v. Corbett et al.

Last week, the court heard Driscoll and Tilson during an oral argument session held in Harrisburg.

Under the state's constitution, judges must retire at the end of the year in which they reach age 70. They may continue working as senior judges.

However, as senior judges, they do not receive the same salary or benefits.

In Driscoll, Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas Judge John J. Driscoll, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Sandra Mazer Moss and colleague Judge Joseph D. O'Keefe want the mandatory retirement provision nullified and declared invalid, and have the court enjoin the defendants from enforcing the provision.

The named defendants in both cases are Gov. Tom Corbett, Court Administrator Zygmont A. Pines and Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol T. Aichele.

In Tilson, Montgomery County Court Judge Arthur Tilson argues that the constitutional requirement is at odds with the Pennsylvania Constitution's guarantee of equal rights.

He, too, wants the provision nullified and declared invalid.

But a lawyer for Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Rochelle S. Friedman -- one of two judges who brought the third state court case -- told The Legal Intelligencer Monday that their lawsuit is different than Driscoll and Tilson.

Tom Groshens of Sprague & Sprague told the Intelligencer that the case also includes claims by qualified voters -- Robert H. Riefle, Bonita L. DiCarlo and Thomas A. Beckley -- who contend that the state's mandatory retirement age deprived them of the efficacy of their votes.

For example, in Friedman's case, her 10-year term was cut short by three years.

Groshens also pointed out that the suit challenges a constitutional amendment that changed the mandatory retirement from a judge's actual 70th birthday to the end of the year in which a judge turns 70, allowing some judges to serve longer than others.

Friedman and Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Alan M. Rubenstein originally filed the lawsuit, which also involves Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Eugene Edward J. Maier. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge William J. Manfredi has filed an application to intervene.

The named defendants include Corbett, Pines, Aichele and State Treasurer Robert M. McCord.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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