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The New Jersey Bar Organization Opposes Raising the Required Retirement Age for Judges

A state senator from New Jersey is recommending raising the obligatory retirement age from 70 to 75 to address the state’s long-standing judicial shortage.

The bill was introduced by state senator Shirley Turner in December. Since the state constitution was drafted in 1947, “life expectancy has altered so dramatically,” she claimed.

In light of improvements in healthcare, Turner noted that people are living longer and added, “It’s like the 70 now is like the old 60.” The present necessary age, she continues, is “not feasible.
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Turner questioned why judges were being called back for recall “if we believe that judges should retire from the bench at age 70.” They are still subject to recall at the age of 80, which is completely absurd.

There are 75 available seats on the trial court bench, according to Chief Justice Stuart Rabner of the New Jersey Supreme Court, who spoke at the State Bar Association Conference last May.

Additionally, the Supreme Court seat has been vacant for almost six months. The president of the bar organization, Jeralyn Lawrence, claimed that Rabner’s “pleading for assistance” has “mostly been disregarded.”

Lawrence believes that Turner’s suggestion “would have the reverse impact of what is intended” and that it will not address the vacancies.

If the legislature decides to circumvent the constitutional requirement that it cooperate with the governor to choose and confirm justices by mandating that judges serve for five more years, she predicted that judges would resign from the bench.

Members have been complaining to Lawrence about cases not being heard because there isn’t a judge accessible.

The New Jersey Bar Organization Opposes Raising the Required Retirement Age for Judges

Lawrence claimed that “actual people”—families, kids, abuse victims, those who were hurt and have a claim, and those who are detained longer than necessary—are “harmed every day.”

She continues by saying that when she awoke on Friday morning, she saw a Facebook message from someone upset about not having access to the judiciary.

Because they are unable to have their cases heard in court, Lawrence claimed that “people are being hurt every single day.” Every day, my coworkers are shouting about it.

It’s not that easy to raise the age. Unless both houses pass the resolution with a supermajority, it requires an amendment to the state constitution, which would need to pass the Legislature through two consecutive sessions. Turner’s bill and the concurrent resolution have not yet been heard in committee.

Ron Chen, a professor at Rutgers Law School, predicted that the obligatory retirement age of 70 will remain in place “for the foreseeable future” due to the process involved in getting the proposed amendment approved.

However, he adds that it remains a “murky political matter” if the idea will be able to pass the Legislature.

This year or even next year, he said, “it’s unclear…whether there is enough support for it in the Legislature to have the supermajority so they could submit it to a public referendum.”

While the Supreme Court has a short-term solution, Chen continues, the Superior Court has been suffering the most from the judicial shortages. Here, routine cases are handled.

He referred to the job openings as “alarming.”

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Turner agreed with him. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” she stated, referring to cases where litigants have been waiting a long time to get their day in court.

Since judges are not elected in New Jersey, only the Senate and the governor have the authority to appoint them to the bench, according to Lawrence.

She advises legislators to “book the nicest conference room at the statehouse in Trenton” and remain there until all the openings have been filled.

“They must talk to one another. They must make a deal. And they must work together; that is what they must do, she added.

Turner asserted that the governor and the legislature are not solely to blame. She claimed that as judges reached retirement age and the state administration was shut down due to the COVID outbreak, shortages were exacerbated.
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It’s challenging to try to process the judges when we’re not, so to speak, available for business, she said.

In addition, Turner’s plan would raise the obligatory retirement age for Tax Court judges, judges in the Division of Workers’ Compensation, and permanent administrative law judges to 75. While Tax Court justices would have to wait for voter approval, workers’ compensation judges and administrative law judges would immediately be affected.


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