The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 21, 2013

Let judges rule on future | It's time to change retirement law

The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — It’s an age-old question – or, more accurately, an old-age question: When is it time to retire?

For most of us, the answer is when can we retire, not when will we be forced to do so. The answer often is dependent on our finances and whether or not we’ve built up a sufficient nest egg to carry us through our golden years.

Pennsylvania judges face a much different timetable, however, and some of them are looking to change that.

Legislation has been introduced to eliminate the requirement that judges retire when they reach age 70. The law would apply from the magisterial level in every county to the Court of Common Pleas and the state Superior and Supreme courts.

Judges currently must step down at the end of the year in which they turn 70, as dictated by the state Constitution. They may continue to serve as senior judges, helping out when the court system is overloaded or if a conflict arises, but they are paid on a per diem basis and lose salary, benefits and much of their staff.

We’re not convinced that the law is beneficial to the state, its residents or its judicial system.

“Age 70 used to be very old, but not anymore,” said Aaron Zappia, aide to state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, who is pushing for an amendment to the state Constitution that would eliminate the forced retirement.

Cambria County President Judge Timothy Creany is 67 years old, and he’s seeking his third

10-year term this season. As it now stands, he would be forced to retire a third of the way through that term.

Like us, Creany sees the law as a relic that made sense years ago but needs to change with the times.

“People are living longer and healthier lives now,” Creany said.

Changing the law will not be easy, as it would require significant support from state legislators, a constitutional amendment and approval by Pennsylvania voters.

But the movement is gaining momentum. Greenleaf’s initiative eliminates any reference to age, unlike legislation introduced in 2012 in hopes of increasing judges mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75.

Not all judges are supporting the initiative.

Fifty-eight-year-old Judge Norman Krumenacker, who has served alongside Creany for the past 21 years, sees the benefit of younger judges, noting that they have come up with some positive new ideas for the judicial system. Krumenacker also pointed out to our Kathy Mellott that older judges have plenty of opportunities for work after age 70 as senior judges.

“I just feel that there is a time when we all should retire,” Krumenacker said.

We agree. We just believe that should be determined on an individual basis, not on a fixed number. After all, we entrust these judges to make life-or-death decisions on a daily basis. How can we possibly rely on them to make decisions that affect others’ lives if we don’t trust them to enough to make an important one about their own?

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