We urge a no vote on state Issue 1, the amendment to the Ohio Constitution that among other things would extend the maximum age that a person may be appointed or elected as judge from 70 to 75.
Extending the current age limit would mean that a person elected to a judgeship at the age of 74, for example, would be 80 by the time his or her six-year term expired.
While many individuals manage to retain mental sharpness well into their 70s and 80s, many are not. According to ScienceDaily.com, a science research site, one out of seven Americans over the age of 70 suffers from dementia.
It's nothing to be ashamed about; it's a fact of life, and many of us have beloved relatives and friends who acquired dementia as they aged. But just as nobody would want a heart surgeon who suffers from dementia, few of us would want to have our most serious life situations, whether criminal or civil, decided by someone with less than full mental functioning.
While voters can take care of this issue with most elected office-holders, we feel that judges — with their near absolute authority in the courtroom, and shielded by staff members who serve at their pleasure — are more likely to remain on the bench long after they've lost their effectiveness. Moreover, the person in the best place to gauge a judge's effectiveness — the judge him- or herself — likely loses that ability once the ravages of dementia start setting in.
Most of us have seen TV shows and films where elderly, dictatorial judges make a mockery of justice while terrorizing their staff, attorneys, witnesses and observers in the gallery. While these portrayals are largely fictional, they have their real-world parallels in courtrooms across our nation.
For years, an aging federal judge in Columbus held absolute sway over his courtroom, arbitrarily humiliating and embarrassing many who appeared before him. Few who had the misfortune of appearing before this judge doubted that he should have retired many years earlier.
Even with the 70-year limit for judges currently in effect in Ohio, retired judges are able to serve on assignment until they're 80. Presumably, if they've shown signs of losing their abilities and judgment, they won't be appointed on this basis.
Issue 1 has two other relatively minor components unrelated to the age issue that should be addressed separately.
Keep the integrity of Ohio's judiciary by voting no on Issue 1.