Judges in Hawaii, including justices of the state Supreme Court, are forced to retire when they reach the age of 70. But how old is too old?

Voters will decide on a constitutional amendment on the November general election ballot that would raise the mandatory retirement age to 80.

The issue is supported by groups like the American Association of Retired Persons.

"There's something fundamentally wrong about saying you're no longer able to work because you hit your 70th birthday," said AARP Hawaii director Barbara Kim Stanton. "It's the last vestige of age discrimination in state employment."

The current mandatory retirement age for judges has been on the books since statehood in 1959.

"There are some judges of advanced ages that perhaps their capacities, such as hearing and vision and those types of things, have been diminished, that we've seen before," said State Public Defender Jack Tonaki.

But even Tonaki believes there are judges who could well serve into their 70s and maybe longer. He also said many attorneys prefer the experience that comes with age.

"Many of the lawyers feel more comfortable with judges who have a lot of experience because they're able to understand and comprehend the arguments a lot better," he said.

A constitutional amendment that would have completely abolished a mandatory retirement age failed in 2006. If it had passed, former circuit judge Michael Town might still be on the bench. He's now the head of the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii. 

State Supreme Court justice Simeon Acoba also reached mandatory retirement age this year. He was just nominated to serve on the University of Hawaii Board of Regents by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who's 76.

"State legislators, the executive branch, and also the three branches of the federal government have no age limits, so why the judges?" asked Stanton.

It's a question voters will decide Nov. 4.

Article from Hawaii News Now