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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Pa. SC dismisses third lawsuit over mandatory retirement age

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jul 17, 2013

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline) -- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has dismissed another lawsuit filed by judges challenging the state's mandatory retirement age.

The state's high court denied an application for relief filed by the plaintiffs in Friedman v. Corbett, and dismissed their petition for review.

The suit is the third to be dismissed by the court.

Last month, all six members of the court agreed that the judges in Driscoll v. Corbett et al. and Tilson v. Corbett et al. should pursue an amendment to the state's constitution if they want to eliminate the mandatory retirement age.

Currently, 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 wanted the mandatory retirement provision nullified and declared invalid, and have the court enjoin the defendants from enforcing the provision.

In Tilson, Montgomery County Court Judge Arthur Tilson argued that the constitutional requirement is at odds with the Pennsylvania Constitution's guarantee of equal rights. He, too, wanted the provision nullified and declared invalid.

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

Corbett, Pines, Aichele and State Treasurer Robert McCord were named in Friedman.

Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Alan Rubenstein, along with Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Rochelle Friedman, argued that their lawsuit was different than Driscoll and Tilson.

Their case also included claims by qualified voters 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.

Friedman also challenged a constitutional amendment that changed the mandatory retirement from a judge's actual 70th birthday, in turn allowing some judges to serve longer than others.

Currently, under the state's constitution, judges must retire at the end of the year in which they reach age 70.

The court, in its nine-page opinion filed Tuesday, pointed to its ruling in the previous two cases.

"Any evidence that Petitioners seek to introduce concerning demographic changes that have occurred since 1968 would have no material effect upon the issue at hand. Additionally, evidence is unnecessary relative to the claim that the age 70 retirement mandate is irrational, since this claim represents a legal conclusion that we rejected in Driscoll," the per curiam opinion states.

"Furthermore, to the extent the Application may be construed to request an opportunity to submit proofs concerning the understanding or intent of individual voters, these too would be irrelevant, for several reasons."

In its ruling, the court also struck down the plaintiffs' contention that a Dec. 31 retirement date is "irrational."

"To the contrary, it serves multiple rational purposes related to the public interest," the justices wrote. "First, it improves the orderly succession of judges or justices by standardizing the retirement date of an outgoing judge so that it occurs at the end of the calendar year. This enhances predictability and aligns judicial terms with the terms of other governmental officials that end on or about the last day of the year.

"Secondly, delaying retirement until the end of the year reduces -- or in the case of odd-year retirements, eliminates -- judicial vacancies that previously arose when a jurist was forced to retire in the middle of the year. Such reduction or elimination serves to lengthen the term of an elected judge while shortening the term of a judge who is appointed to fill a vacancy."

Chief Justice Ronald Castille filed a separate, concurring opinion.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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