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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 20, 2007

End of Judge Burns' career posits a lesson

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If there was ever a clear argument for repealing the mandatory retirement age for judges, the case of Intermediate Court of Appeals Chief Judge James S. Burns, who retired Wednesday a day before his 70th birthday would certainly be on that list.

Judge Burns is known for his calm demeanor, his common-sense approach to the law and his ability to treat people with dignity and respect. Burns, who earned a his law degree from Villanova, is perhaps best known for his opinions in Family Court cases and, of course, as the son of Hawai'i's longtime former governor, John A. Burns.

Anyone who has had a conversation recently with Burns surely can see he is most definitely firing on all cylinders.

"I don't feel 70. And I don't feel too old to be a judge. I definitely would not have retired if it were not required. Judges, above all, have to follow the rules," Burns said.

Last November, voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have repealed the mandatory retirement age of 70 for state judges and justices.

Critics claimed the amendment was a thinly veiled effort by Democrats to prevent Gov. Linda Lingle from naming replacements for slots coming due.

Burns' departure is a reminder that forcing judges to retire solely on age is not right. There are safeguards in the process that provide against substandard performance. At the end of each 10-year term, the Judicial Selection Commission can decide whether to retain a judge based on performance.

As he marks the end of a 30-year law career, no doubt Burns will find ways to contribute to Hawai'i. "I am involved in nonprofit and charitable organizations, and I will probably be more involved in them," he said.

There is no age limitation on that good work.