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Last November, voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have repealed the mandatory retirement age of 70 for state judges and justices.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