A trio of Comanche County District judges responded to a proposed Senate Bill forcing judicial retirement at 75 years of age.
State Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, authored Senate Bill 1672 that would require district and appellate court judges to retire when they reach the age of 75. She claims it’s a needed resolution due to the Oklahoma Supreme Court invalidating reforms Republican lawmakers have passed.
But locally, the wisdom of this proposal is being met with the skeptical eye of local jurists.
Presiding Comanche County District Judge Emmit Tayloe had not heard of the bill and found it interesting that a legislator would propose a law requiring judges to step down at the age of 75 when the two top candidates for President of the United States are over 75.
Tayloe believes experienced jurists offer enhanced judgment.
“I find that older judges/attorneys have experienced the application of the law over the years and can appreciate why certain laws are written the way they are,” he said. “We have seen how the law has been applied over decades and how the law can best be applied.”
One example has been when drug laws were used to incarcerate persons for lengthy terms rather than attempt to solve the problem by rehabilitating drug abusers through programs like Community Sentencing that requires a probation officer that will make sure they get jobs and remain drug free, Tayloe said.
Grant D. Sheperd, the youngest district judge on the Comanche County bench and presently chief judge, finds it curious that 75 is the proposed age for the mandatory retirement. While it wouldn’t effect him for another 36 years, he believes it’s a bad idea. He credits the older, experienced judges with helping him gain his footing on the bench.
“When you’re new to the bench, you need experienced people you can go to with questions,” he said. “It’s invaluable to be able to talk with experienced judges when you’re a new judge.”
Sheperd said there are already vehicles for removal of judges.
“District judges can be voted out every four years,” he said.
Concurring with that, Tayloe said age isn’t the problem. He believes the current system offers ample ways of removing judges from the bench without mandating it into law.
“If a judge becomes incapacitated or mentally unfit to perform his or her job, there are procedures to remove that judge,” he said.
At 72 years old, Special District Judge Susan Zwaan doesn’t believe in an arbitrary age for forced retirement. She mentioned retired Associate District Judge C. William Stratton who retired at 80. Now close to 90 years old, she says he’s “still sharp as a tack.”
After nine years on the bench, Zwaan said she’s not ready to retire.
“As long as I still like it and I’m able to do it and as long as they still want me, I’ll be here,” she said.
For whatever issues are behind Senate Bill 1672, Tayloe said getting rid of judges because of their age is not the solution.
“Some persons are able to serve in the capacity of judge for long beyond any particular age,” he said. “We are like any other profession that requires an astute mental capacity. No judge should be forced off the bench solely because of age.”
Tayloe cited Job 12:12 to offer food for thought about the wealth of knowledge that comes from experience:
“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?”
Responding to it all, Tayloe offered one more caveat to his point of view.
“Of course,” he said, “this is only the opinion of a judge of the ripe old age of 66.”