Raising the Judicial Retirement Age

strawhatOn Tuesday, Pennsylvania voters will be asked to decide whether to amend the Constitution of the Commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Judicial Retirement Age Amendment (2016) ballot question will be worded thusly:

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges, and magisterial district judges be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years?

It is deceptively straightforward. If you don’t know any better, you might assume judges are never required to retire, as is the case in the Federal courts. You would be incorrect. The Pennsylvania Constitution, Article V, Section 16(b), currently requires judges to retire at age 70. This amendment would raise the age to 75.

I am sympathetic to the proposal. As a litigator and trial lawyer, I have known several judges who were still excellent jurists at age 70, and who could have served for years into their seventies. By rights, I should be in favor of this idea. I am not.

On the substantive question: there’s nothing special about any particular judge. They are just men and women in robes. Some are better than others. When one retires, we elect another. If we choose wisely, we choose another wise person. Thus it is as with all things.

On the procedural issue: the process of putting the question on the ballot has been an embarrassment. In a state that has recently seen its Attorney General jailed as a Felon and perjurer; where several senior legislators have been removed from office for corruption; and where two Supreme Court Justices were forced to step down for ethical lapses involving lewd and racist emails, you would think we would be more sensitive to issues of process and transparency.

You would think that.

Treachery and subterfuge should not be rewarded. For this and many other reasons, I will vote NO on the Ballot Question. It fixes a problem we do not have.

Winning the Peace

A problem many of my custody clients struggle with is what to do when the litigation is over. We’ve amassed volumes of material about the other side, fortified our own position with evidence, exhibits, and witnesses to show how we meet the needs of the children better than the other parent possibly could. And then it ends, either in a negotiated outcome of an order and decree from a judge. But it is over and time to get back to parenting.

Returning to peacetime is difficult. In almost all cases, the once-litigants are now called upon to co-parent. Where once they were guarded with information for fear of showing any weakness, they’re now expected to cooperate and be open with each other. To say this is a difficult transition is an understatement.

I firmly believe we should have our custody clients attend post-litigation counseling. We often hear about how traumatic divorce and custody litigation is on children, but it is just as harmful to the parents.

The parents who manage to leave the war behind are the ones who win the peace, and their children are better for it. But we aren’t concerned with that. Not as attorneys, not as judges, and not as the courts. We need to do better. The adversarial process is a terrible way to deal with raising children.

Centre County, It Is Time To Move On

Many of us were pleased with the outcome of the Grand Jury investigation into allegations that the Centre County District Attorney had acted improperly and committed several potentially criminal acts. At least we were going to be spared a very messy public trial of a sitting District Attorney! We could get back to normal in Centre County!

But the parties continued to escalate their dispute, now in Federal civil court, and our nightmare continues. Centre county’s legal community has become toxic. I suspect the District Attorney will insist, and likely believes, that pursuing the various civil and tort remedies she is seeking in Federal court will restore her reputation in the community, and in turn will restore confidence in the justice system.

This outcome could not be more unlikely. The public is upset about the fighting and the allegations and the acrimony. I see it daily from my clients, friends, family, and people I just happen to meet out in public.

To make matters worse, a private anti-union group (an apparently Thatcherite organization that seems to crusade against evil groups like public schoolteachers) has begun agitating against the District Attorney, accusing her of corruption and other violations of the public trust. Just today, I saw a flashy, professionally produced mail piece arrive at home imploring the public to… I don’t know what. Rise up? It wasn’t clear what their goal is, aside from shitstirring. Maybe they’re just bored?

I’m only half-joking when I tell people we are going to need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to get over this.

Many of us in the legal community have stayed out of these fights. It is my belief that the Rules of Professional Conduct require us, at least the attorneys, to not do anything that undermines public confidence in the Judiciary and, by extension, the criminal justice system. But there is a conflicting requirement in our Rules: to speak out on issues of public concern and for the reform of the legal system.

So here’s my idea for what needs to happen: For the good of our community, the District Attorney needs to drop her lawsuit. The other various parties need to drop any counterclaims they may have filed.

Apologies should be offered and accepted all around, by and to everyone involved. Only then can we start to work together to restore Centre County’s reputation as a model court in the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System.