There are Reasons to Eliminate Mandatory Retirement for Judges

Federal judges have no mandatory retirement, and as a result they can keep working on cases and avoid the disruption a retirement can cause mid-litigation. States frequently have mandatory retirement requirements for judges and, as the ABA Journal article points out, these retirement mandates would make it virtually impossible to have a 93 year-old judge handle a case that has been going on for 44 years.

Forty-four years after then-U.S. District Judge Damon Keith found evidence of housing discrimination by a Detroit area community, the case still isn’t over.

Keith is now 93 years old and a federal appeals judge, and he wants the case wrapped up, the Associated Press reports. Keith still oversees the case despite his elevation to the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to the AP account, Keith told lawyers during a recent meeting in his office that, “This thing can’t go on … I’m not a quitter.”  Keith added, though, “I just get tired,” and – if the case can’t be resolved soon – another judge will take over.

The community of Hamtramck, Michigan, had resolved the discrimination case with an agreement to offer 200 family housing units, as well as 150 units for senior citizens. The town still hasn’t developed three of the promised houses, and it doesn’t have enough money on hand to fund the construction.

The lawyer representing the civil rights plaintiffs, Michael Barnhart, is seeking a court order to force the city to pay for the remaining units, the Hamtramck Review reported in June.

The city is criticizing $900,000 in legal fees paid to Barnhart over the last four years. According to a legal filing by the city, the money “could have been used to finish the remaining three houses and finally bring an end to this litigation.”

Barnhart refused to comment on litigation matters when contacted by the Hamtramck Review. In court documents, he said dealing with agencies helping Hamtramck meet its housing goal is “complex and difficult.”

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