EDITORIAL: Firing of older justices is unjust

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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

So. The organization in the state based entirely on judgment decided not to use any judgment at all in finding ways to cut its budget.

Rather, it took the easy, simplistic route, and in doing so may be depriving New York’s court system of its most experienced and competent jurists at a time when it needs them the most.

Earlier this month, the state Office of Court Administration, in an effort to trim its budget because of the state’s financial crisis, decided that the quickest, easiest way to save $55 million was to lop off the state’s oldest judges from its ranks.

Under the plan, 46 of the 49 Supreme Court judges over the state’s mandatory retirement age of 70 will lose their jobs as of Jan. 1.

The decision wasn’t based on performance or need or competency or experience. It was based solely on ease.

In New York, the mandatory retirement age for judges is 70. That in and of itself is antiquated and ageist, a relic imposed in the 1800s when lifespans were much lower and when the value to society of older citizens was unexplored and unappreciated. In order to continue serving beyond age 70, a judge can apply for three, two-year extensions up until age 76.

So to get rid of a lot of judges quickly, the court administration just denied the extensions. Problem solved!

Besides the obvious issue of age discrimination, the decision makes the court system weaker.

Because the courts were operating on a limited basis for about seven months due to the covid crisis, there is a backlog of cases that need to be handled.

That caseload is going to fall on the state’s remaining judges. This will not only stress these judges out even further and undermine morale, but also contribute to further delays in the cases.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

This decision needn’t have been made now, or made the way it was.

The courts could have first asked judges at or around retirement age to retire early, even those under the age of 70.

They could have selected judges for layoff based where they serve or on the complexity of their caseloads.

They could have waited, at least, until after the November election or after Congress approves a new economic stimulus package to see if the state might be getting money that could help negate the need for staff cuts.

Maybe they could have negotiated a pay cut or rotating furloughs to keep the judges employed while saving money.

But no. The court administration found the most simplistic, least judicious way to make cuts, while discriminating against older judges and potentially harming the court system.

They need to go back and find a better way to save money.

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