Current Arkansas law requires judges
to retire at the end of a term in which they turn 70 or else lose retirement
benefits. It's a powerful incentive to quit because judges with sufficient tenure can retire at 80 percent of pay.
But many would like to continue working and many believe — and demonstrate — that they are fully competent at 70 and well beyond. Not all, of course.
Among those who'd like to continue serving is Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hannah.
He and others have tried unsuccessfully to get the legislature to raise the retirement limit.
So now comes a bill this session, HB 1202 by Rep. Matthew Shepherd, to up the cutoff to 72.
Many legislators have responded favorably to this bill because they think it will help Chief Justice Hannah. They are wrong, I'm told. I believe it was written for the benefit of a particular South Arkansas judge, though it would have the general effect of lengthening service time without penalty. Just not for Hannah.
Hannah, 70, will turn 72 less than a week before a new term for him would begin in January 2017. Under both current law and the new proposal he could not run for office again in 2016 without facing the loss of retirement benefits. Perhaps he'll do that anyway.
Many lawyers hope so, particularly those who oppose Justice Courtney Goodson's
plan to run for chief justice in 2016.