The New York court system illegally laid off 46 of its oldest judges — an action taken to slash costs during the COVID-19-pandemic-fueled fiscal crisis, a state jurist ruled Wednesday.
The 46 judges are all over the retirement age of 70.
Judges who hit the age of 70 can apply to stay on the bench after the retirement age through a special certification — if they are mentally competent and there is a need to handle a backlog of cases.
Barring any health-related issues, the older judges’ tenures are routinely extended.
But the Office of Court Administration put 46 of the 49 judges out to pasture by denying re-certification to slash costs by $55 million after the state budget approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature reduced its funding by $300 million.
The judges sued the state judiciary, claiming their removal smacked of ageism.
Suffolk County state Supreme Court Justice Paul Baisley, 67, said the OCA board’s decision to summarily oust the most senior judges was unconstitutional and “arbitrary and capricious.”
“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 said in the six-page decision.
The judge said pushing the elderly judges out the door without a fair individual review “smacks of such alien concepts as the divine rights of kings and papal infallibility.”
The lawyer for the oldest judges hailed the ruling as just.
“We are delighted that our client’s need to continue to serve and contribute have been recognized and that Justice Baisley determined that the law was not followed in deciding their fate to continue to serve the citizens of the City and State,” said attorney Y. David Scharf.
In a previous Post interview, Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Freed, 73, said OCA’s move to get rid of her smacked of age discrimination.
“Just don’t say, ‘OK, Boomer,’” quipped Freed, a former councilwoman who has been on the bench since 2004.
Freed said the mandatory retirement age is a relic of the 1800s and noted the older judges have been encouraged to continue serving on the bench because they’re needed.
“Having an age-70 age limit is ageism,” the judge said.
Manhattan Appellate Ellen Gesmer, a septuagenarian plaintiff in the case said, “I really love my job. I feel fully able to do my job.
OCA spokesman Lucien Chalfen responded, “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.”