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Court rules that 46 older judges can stay, moving case to appellate showdown

January 4, 2021 David Brand
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New York court leaders violated the state constitution when they decided to summarily terminate 46 older judges across the state, a Suffolk County Supreme Court justice ruled Dec. 30.

The decision by Justice Paul Baisley extends a career lifeline to judges over 70 who were denied recertification in a cost-cutting move by Office of Court Administration leadership. After Gov. Cuomo ordered the court system to slash 10 percent of its budget, or $300 million, OCA leaders sought to deny new two-year terms to 46 of 49 judges seeking recertification.

Two groups of judges, some in Appellate Division and others in state Supreme Court, sued to reverse the decision, claiming the move was age discrimination and would impede the court system.

OCA argued that they have discretion to deny recertification, a process that had been a formality for judges seeking to stay on the bench beyond age 70, so long as they passed cognitive exams. Under state law, Supreme Court justices are required to apply for recertification every two years after turning 70 until they reach a mandatory retirement age of 76.

But Baisley said OCA failed to adhere to the state constitution because they failed to consider whether the judges were “necessary to expedite the business of the court.”

“If there was ever a time for additional experienced judges to address the conceded massively growing backlog of cases occurring in courthouses across the state, now is the time,” Baisley wrote in his decision.

He also said OCA’s argument that it had “unfettered discretion” to deny the judges new terms “smacks of such alien concepts as the divine right of kings and papal infallibility.”

The matter will next head to an appellate court. OCA spokesperson Lucian Chalfen said court leaders remain confident about winning the legal fight.

“We have the decision from Justice Baisley and are pleased that going forward, all the issues will be addressed in the Appellate Division, where we believe our position will be vindicated,” Chalfen said.

For the 46 impacted judges, questions linger. Do they report for work on Jan. 4? Do they rescind their retirement papers?

Neither OCA nor judges interviewed by the Eagle had an immediate answer.

“Either one retires or waits to see how it shakes out,” one judge told the Eagle. “It’s a mess.”

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