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Voters To Consider Referendum To Raise Retirement Age For State Judges

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New York Voters are being asked to consider a handful of ballot initiatives on Election Day including a referendum to legalize casino gambling, and a less-talked-about one that raises the retirement age for judges. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.

It hasn't received as much attention as the referendum to legalize gambling, but voters are being asked to extend life on the bench for New York State judges.

Under the referendum to change the state Constitution, judges on the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals would be able to retire at 80 instead of age 70.

"The current age limitation comes from 1869," said Robert Danzi of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. "And now, we're here over 150 some odd years later, and the age of retirement is the same as it was in 1869, when the average life expectancy was 40."

Critics contend that age 70 is long enough, and that by extending the mandatory requirement age, it only stifles efforts to diversify the court along with a rapidly diversifying state population.

"Too often, it's white males that stay there for a tremendously long time," said City Councilman Charles Barron of Brooklyn. "So I think any kind of legislation that perpetuates the status quo, that keeps them in longer, is not good for Democracy, is certainly not good for the black and Latino and Asian community."

Albany insiders have also grumbled that the bill authorizing the referendum is a favor from embattled Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to his good friend Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals. Without the change, Lippman would have to retire in 2015, when he turns 70.

"Shelly Silver has a way of sneaking things in," Barron said. "He probably cut some deal somewhere, trying to help some of his pals."

"Judge Lippman is a wonderful jurist, and we would be benefited overall to keep him on the bench as long as possible because he is as good as they get," Danzi said.

Danzi's political action committee, Lawpac, has given Silver more than $20,000 during the last decade.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who strongly favors the casino referendum, is against this one.

"I don't support the referendum that would raise the limit," he said.

A spokesman for Silver said that any suggestion that he was doing a favor for Lippman is "nonsense." He said that efforts to raise the retirement age has been going on for years. Voters rejected a similar referendum in 1983.

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