(Editor's Note Update: The bills referred to in the following story died in the waning days of the legislative session. A complete update will be included in the April 1 News.)
A proposed constitutional amendment raising the mandatory retirement age for Florida’s judiciary from 70 to 75 has cleared the Florida Senate.
SJR 408 passed the upper chamber by a 38-1 vote on February 29 and came after an amendment was considered that would have increased the experience required by those seeking to be county and circuit court judges.
The measure faces an uncertain future in the House. The companion measure there, HJR 345, was never heard in committee.
Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, sponsored the Senate bill. He argued in various committees and on the Senate floor that the change reflects that people are living longer and that most states have either no age limit for judges or a higher limit than Florida.
Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, proposed an amendment that would have made a further constitutional change by requiring that lawyers seeking to become trial judges have been members in good standing with The Florida Bar for 10 years — the same requirement as for district court of appeal judges and Supreme Court justices.
The Florida Constitution currently requires circuit and county court judge candidates to be Bar members in good standing for five years. An exception is in counties with less than 40,000 people, where county court candidates need only be Bar members in good standing.
“When you run for judge, there’s very little you can say about what your beliefs are, who you are, and your experience,” Ring said. “What we’re trying to do is give comfort to the voters that there is truly experience.”
Ring’s proposal ran into several questions from other senators, including whether smaller counties would be able to find qualified judicial candidates under the higher standard, whether the requirement should remain at five years for county court judges, and whether any studies showed such a change was needed.
Ring then withdrew his amendment, after saying he was amenable to requiring less experience for county court candidates. He said he planned to reintroduce the amendment, if the House approves a similar retirement age amendment, but with different language that would require the Senate to vote again on the issue.