Judge age case to Pa. high court

Posted: March 31, 2013

HARRISBURG - The state Supreme Court says it will hear - and fast-track - a case that will determine whether the justices, or any Pennsylvania judges, can serve on the bench past age 70.

The court agreed Thursday to consider a challenge by Montgomery County Court Judge Arthur Tilson to the state constitution requirement that judges retire in the calendar year in which they turn 70.

The one-page order said oral argument would be held in Harrisburg in May, suggesting the matter could be resolved before the fall election.

It's a matter of particular importance to Chief Justice Ronald Castille, who is running for retention this year but who will turn 70 in 2014.

Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, which works to improve the state justice system, took no position on whether the 70-year-old limit is good public policy.

"It's impossible to make a blanket statement," Marks said. "Aging affects different people differently."

Tilson's petition named as respondents Gov. Corbett, Corbett's secretary of state, and the judicial system's court administrator.

Corbett's office referred questions to the Attorney General's Office, which issued a statement saying its lawyers were looking forward to defending the law before the high court.

In an interview published Thursday in the Doylestown Intelligencer, William Hangley, a lawyer for Tilson, said the retirement rule amounted to a form of age discrimination. Tilson earned a second 10-year term in 2011, when he was 68.

"Judge Tilson is an active, vibrant person who is fully as capable as a younger judge, but also has the advantage of experience that a younger judge might not have," Hangley told the paper.

The justices, in taking the case, told the parties to file briefs that address whether the constitutional section that contains the age limit violates Article 1, the Declaration of Rights, which includes a nondiscrimination provision.

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