Fayette County judge files lawsuit to keep seat on bench
Fayette County Common Pleas President Judge Gerald R. Solomon, 70, who faces mandatory retirement this month, is the latest judge to file a lawsuit in an effort to remain on the bench.
In November, a half-dozen Pennsylvania judges filed a similar suit, contesting a mandate requiring they step down at the end of the year in which they turn 70.
“I love my work and believe that I have served our county well and can continue to do so. I do not want to be terminated by an unconstitutional and arbitrary age limit that makes retirement mandatory solely because you have reached a certain age. It is a mandate that applies only to judges and to no other elected officials. The effect is that today you are competent to serve as a sitting judge, tomorrow you are not, but you can continue to serve as a senior judge and perform the same duties as a sitting judge,” Solomon said in a prepared statement.
“It has been my honor to serve, and my years on the bench have given me experience that can only come in the performance of my sworn duties. Four out of every five citizens that voted, fully informed of my age, retained me to serve a full 10-year term. However, mandatory retirement will deprive them of their electoral decision and me of the five remaining years on my term,” Solomon continued.
Philadelphia attorney William T. Hangley confirmed on Friday that he is representing Solomon and Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Arthur Tilson in a lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court.
The judges contend the mandatory retirement provision, which went into effect in 1969, is age discrimination that violates their constitutional rights.
“The cliche about 60 being the new 50 is turning out to be very true. In my profession, for example, not long ago a lawyer who got to be say, 65, would be told his services were no longer required. We don't do that any more. We discovered we were throwing an awful lot of really good talent out the window when we did that,” Hangley said.
Gov. Tom Corbett is named as lead defendant, along with state secretary Carol T. Aichele, state treasurer Robert McCord and court administrator Zygmont A. Pines.
“We have no comment on this pending litigation, but we expect that the Office of Attorney General will be responding by way of appropriate filings on behalf of the governor and the secretary of the commonwealth,” said Janet Kelley, a Corbett spokeswoman, after the earlier suit was filed.
Press secretaries for the remaining defendants who were reached on Friday declined to comment.
The lawsuit contends the mandatory retirement provision violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection and due process clauses, as well as Article 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Judges who are forced to quit because of their age can choose to continue working as senior judges, the lawsuit notes, but for less money and no benefits.
Annual salaries range from $169,541 for full-time Common Pleas judges to $195,309 for Supreme Court justices, the lawsuit states.
Senior judges in county courts are paid $522 per day when on the bench, but that pay, plus their pension, cannot exceed $169,541 annually.
Senior judges lose office space and law clerks and are in effect, Hangley said, “made second-class judges, only because of a date on a calendar.”
“This is not a lawsuit for damages. It is a lawsuit to enable them to continue as full-fledged, fully compensated judges,” Hangley said.
Westmoreland County Juvenile Court Judge John J. Driscoll was among six judges listed in a civil suit that Philadelphia attorney Robert C. Heim filed in Harrisburg against state officials.
Driscoll turned 70 in February. His forced departure will occur three years before his 10-year term expires in 2016.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or email@example.com.