Senate panel advances extension on judicial retirement age

Advocate file photo -- The Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge. Show caption
Advocate file photo -- The Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge.

A state Senate committee advanced legislation Tuesday morning that would allow voters to decide if judges could remain in office after the age of 70.

The state constitution prohibits 70-year-old and older judges, though they are allowed to continue serving until the completion of their six-year term of office.

Senate Bill 11 would remove, assuming the state’s voters agree, the mandatory retirement age.

Andrew Muhl, a lobbyist for AARP Louisiana, argued that all workers should be judged on their skills, not their age. “Our hope is that nobody ever has to hear the words, ‘You’re too old – and you’re fired.’”

But in smaller judicial districts, such as the 20th District of East and West Feliciana parishes, lawyers and judges have a closer relationship than is common in the larger districts, said Samuel C. D’Aquilla, district attorney for those parishes.

“They become untouchable,” D’Aquilla testified. “This matter was placed in the constitution for a reason.”

He said sheriffs and district attorneys, who have no age limit, can rely on assistants to keep up with the work, but the roughly 500 district, municipal, appellate and other judges do not have that option.

State Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, countered, “I’m not buying the distinction as to why you have assistants that you’re in a better position.”

Without objection, Senate Judiciary A Committee favorably recommended SB11 to the full Senate. The measure would need two-thirds support – 26 of 39 senators – and two-thirds support in the Louisiana House of Representatives before heading to voters.