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Judges' beefs will be heard

| Saturday, March 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Judge John J. Driscoll congratulates Norwin senior Kasey Kemp with the Top Female Scholar-Athlete Award and Derry senior Jimmy Gulibon with the Top Male Scholar Athlete Award, during the 2012 Scholar Athlete Awards, presented by Judge John J. Driscoll, held at Ferrante's Lakeview in Greensburg on Tuesday evening, April 24, 2012. Kim Stepinsky | For The Tribune-Review

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by a number of judges statewide who claim the mandatory retirement age of 70 violates their civil rights prohibiting age discrimination.

In a brief, three-sentence order made by the state's high court on Thursday, attorneys representing state officials and those representing the judges — they include Westmoreland County Judge John Driscoll, Philadelphia Senior Judge Sandra Mazer Moss and Judge Joseph D. O'Keefe of Philadelphia — were instructed to submit briefs on the matter.

The court will hear arguments later this spring. The judges stated in the order that they will decide whether the retirement age prescribed in the state constitution violates citizen's rights guaranteed in Article 1 of the constitution, which forbids discrimination of civil rights. “The (Supreme Court) prothonotary is directed to establish an expedited briefing schedule and list this case for oral argument during our May 2013 session in Harrisburg,” the order states.

Neither Philadelphia attorney Robert C. Heim, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of several judges in November, nor Driscoll could be reached for comment Friday.

O'Keefe is 69 and is seeking retention to a 10-year term. If he wins retention, he will be forced to retire next year after his 70th birthday.

Driscoll was elected common pleas court judge in 1994. He turned 70 on Feb. 13, 2012, and had to retire Dec. 31 under the law, which requires judges retire at the end of the year they turn 70. He now serves as a senior family court judge.

His forced departure occurred three years before his 10-year term expires in 2016.

The judges contend in the civil lawsuit that the mandatory retirement provision is age discrimination and violates their constitutional rights. The 21-page suit notes that by 2030 there will be more than 75 million Americans 65 and older.

“As the population ages, the incidence of cognitive decline has decreased remarkably in recent years,” the lawsuit states.

The mandatory retirement provision went into effect in 1969.

“All the Plaintiffs were elected to 10-year terms that extended beyond — and in some cases well beyond — their forced individual retirement dates; therefore, the electorate unreasonably is being deprived without regard to the Plaintiffs' individual abilities to well and faithfully perform their judicial duties,” the lawsuit states.

“It is believed ... that no other elected or appointed officials in Pennsylvania are forced to retire or are disqualified from holding office by reason of attaining a maximum age, and other employees of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who are not in physically demanding positions, are not forced to retire upon attaining a maximum age,” it states.

In addition to Gov. Tom Corbett, the judges name state Secretary Carol T. Aichele, and state courts administrator Zygmont A. Pines as defendants.

The state Attorney General's office said Friday that its civil law division would respond on behalf of the state officers during the proceedings.

A common pleas court judge in Pennsylvania currently earns $173,271 annually; a Supreme Court judge earns $199,606, and senior judges earn $534 a day.

Fayette County Judge Gerald R. Solomon, who also was forced to retire in December after he turned 70, filed a separate civil lawsuit in Commonwealth Court with another group of judges on the same matter.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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