TOPEKA — Jackson County District Judge Norbert Marek is leading a charge to raise the mandatory retirement age of judges from 75 to 80.
Marek supports proposed legislation that he says would better reflect the average lifespan of Kansans "as technology and lifestyles develop."
The age limit applies to judges at every level, from county district courts to the Kansas Supreme Court. A judge who turns 75 is allowed to finish his or her current term.
Under the proposed change that Marek supports, a judge would be forced to retire at age 80, even if it were in the middle of a term. Marek testified in favor of the bill this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"This kind of advances the age," Marek said. "You say, why pick that age? Well, I suppose you have to pick one if you're going to have this, and if you look at longevity trends and so forth, that seems to make some sense."
He said he was motivated to pursue the change in support of 2nd District Chief Judge Gary Nafziger. Although Nafziger is nearing 75, Marek said, he retains full mental capacity, is up to date on technology and hasn't burned out like some judges.
Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, raised concerns with the appointment process for judges who leave the bench before their term expires. He said he favored legislative oversight and pointed to selections by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as reasons for concern.
Marek said it is "obvious" that judges sometimes choose to leave the bench during the term of a particular governor, but not because of mandatory retirement age.
"My solution to the concern you have is elect Republican governors over and over and over again, and then the method of selection theoretically wouldn't matter as much," Marek said.
The proposed legislation is sponsored by five Republicans and five Democrats, including Sen. Vic Miller, a Democrat from Topeka who testified in favor of raising the retirement age.
"To me, age is meaningless," Miller said. "Ability is a criteria we should look at and not just some arbitrary number. Some people are not competent at any age. Others can contribute vastly well into the upper ages, or what we used to think were the upper ages."