Minnesota bill would, among other things, force judges to promise they will remain in office their full term or forfeit 25% of their pensions

I noted an interesting Minnesota combination bill SB 627 (which now has a House companion, HB 1536) which would increase mandatory retirement age for judges but do away with the “incumbent” designation on ballots for judges seeking reelection.

Another interesting combination bill has been introduced, this time in the House, HB 1474.

Section 1 ends the practice of election by district. Instead, judges would be elected from the individual county or judicial election precinct in which they have their chambers within a judicial district, rather than by the district as a whole. For counties/judicial election precincts with no judge currently, the Commission on Judicial Selection would assign a judge.

The remaining sections make a unique linkage between service and retirement.

Under Section 3 of the bill, any judge or justice seeking reelection must file a “commitment in writing” that the justice or judge will serve in the office until:

  1. the mandatory retirement date (changed, see below), or
  2. a newly created “optional retirement date” (see below), or
  3. the disability date, or
  4. appointed to another office of government, or
  5. unable to serve due to a compelling physical or personal reason.

Section 5 then defines a “compelling physical or personal reason”  as “a physical condition that renders the judge unable to perform the duties of judicial office or the need to care for a member of the judge’s immediate family.” The Court of Appeals (and NOT the Supreme Court) would make the determination of whether a “compelling physical or personal reason” exists. Because this bill would apply to all state judge/justices, this could (would?) result in a lower court ruling on the status of a higher court’s membership.

A judge or justice who retires/resigns without that “compelling physical or personal reason” (whether they made the commitment or not, thus covering first-term judges/justices) would forfeit 25% of their retirement annuity. The only exception would be if the judge is appointed to serve on another court, the judge retires due to a disability or the aforementioned “compelling physical or personal reasons”.

Section 4 also addresses resignations/vacancies, providing first that the mere announcement of an intention to resign does not create a judicial vacancy. More critically, the provisions create the title or designation of “placeholder” to refer to anyone appointed by the governor to fill a judicial vacancy. The person would specifically not be “a prior office holder or the successor of a prior office holder,” thus presumably not eligible to have the word “incumbent” next to their name come election time. If a placeholder then dies/resigns and the election is still more than 12 months away, the governor would be free to appoint anyone “learned in the law” and who meets all other criteria for holding judicial office to serve until a successor elected. If the election is less than 12 months away, the office would remain vacant.

Section 6 extends the mandatory retirement date of from the *end of month* in which judge turns 70 to *end of year of a general election* after a judge turns 70, while Section 7 creates an “optional retirement date” of December 31 of a general election year.

HB 1474 is currently in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.