18 March 2014

Committee action, Mar. 18: SB 11

SB 11 by Sen. Eric LaFleur would amend the Constitution to remove the age restriction of 70 for judges. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee A that federal judges have no age limit, and neither do any other Louisiana elected officials. District Judge Janice Clark testified, calling the limit “odious” and “discriminatory.”

Sen. Jack Donahue said many age 70-plus judges continue to work in the state judiciary, in temporary positions. He also pointed out it difficult for voters to be able to determine whether an elderly judge was capable of continuing, and that cases of judges slipping in performance rarely happen precisely because of the age limit. LaFleur said the Judiciary Commission can watch out for underperforming judges. Clark claimed judges were highly visible and the public would catch on whether they should be retired by the ballot box. Donahue said he would vote for the measure in committee but not on the floor.

Sen. Edwin Murray pointed out there could be a cost savings, because they could draw retirement pay later in life while a working judge essentially in his place would simultaneously draw a salary. Sen. Conrad Appel wondered how many had been disciplined for inactivity, and was told this presumably was handled now diplomatically. Sen. Rick Ward said many judges ought to be in their prime around when they hit 70.

A technical amendment to put the bill into a proper Constitutional posture was adopted. An AARP representative framed the issue in term of a right to a job, and nobody should lose that. Speaking in opposition was 20th District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla, who said in his smaller district judges remained well-insulated from the public. He also said ill judges have no replacements at hand, which then cost taxpayers more for temporary replacements. Murray and Sen. Danny Martiny queried him, trying to get him to retract that distinction on cost basis.

The bill was reported without objection.

I don’t speak for the district attorneys …
I assure you, you don’t.
Martiny in questioning D’Aquilla.

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