Split judgment on judicial changes

October 21, 1994

Two ballot questions dealing with courts management will be before the voters Nov. 8. We urge voters to render a split judgment.

Question No. 2 alters the boundaries of the circuits for the Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals. A new circuit would be created for Montgomery County; Baltimore City would lose one of the two judges it provides to each of the two courts.

Population change made this inevitable. There are now more people, lawyers and complex litigation in Montgomery and less in the city. We endorse this amendment reluctantly: Maryland no longer needs to appoint appellate court judges based on specific geographic locales.

If geographic diversity is not needed on the appellate courts, racial and gender diversity is. That is one reason we oppose Question No. 3, which raises the mandatory retirement age for all judges from 70 to 75. Most of the judges affected are white males, thus reducing the number of new slots for the state's growing number of highly capable women lawyers and black lawyers who aspire to judgeships.

Another reason we oppose this amendment to the state Constitution is that judging, done right, is a demanding profession. Age tends to render many judges less capable as the rigors of the job mount over the years. Retired judges who oppose this amendment will attest to that. Seventy, 75, 65, 80 -- there is no magic age at which the able automatically become unable, but there ought to be a line, and 70 seems about right. Judges who are forced to retire but who are known by their colleagues to be fit are allowed under current state law to sit as judges for up to 180 days a year. No competent judge who wants to stay active will suffer if the 70-year-old age limit is retained.

A third reason for our opposition is that the constitutional amendment seems to have been put on the ballot by the General Assembly for the express purpose of allowing Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy of the Court of Appeals and Chief Judge Robert F. Sweeney of the District Court, both 68, to retain their positions. Sticking what amounts to a private bill in the Constitution is inappropriate. We have great respect for those men as jurists and administrators, but Mr. Murphy has been chief judge since 1972 and Mr. Sweeney has been chief judge since xTC (the year the District Court was created). It's time for a change.

We recommend a vote FOR the constitutional amendment on Question No. 2 and a vote AGAINST the constitutional amendment on Question No. 3.

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