Local judges could benefit from a bill introduced by State Rep. Victor Gaston (R-Mobile) that would eliminate maximum age restrictions for certain elected or appointed positions.
The proposal would affect county and state judges, as well as university trustees statewide, Gaston said of the bill.
Currently, judges and university trustees can’t seek re-election if they’re 70 or older.
“I guess it’s about people living longer and being productive later,” Gaston said. “There are a lot of capable people who are older.”
He said just to be eliminated at age 70 seemed unfair.
“There are a lot of people at that age who don’t go to work every day,” he said. “But some lawyers and people who own their own businesses still do.”
Gaston said he was focused more on trustees at the University of Alabama than on local judges when developing the legislation. For instance, Mobile County Presiding Circuit Judge Charles Graddick was barred from running for his elected seat this year because of the age requirement.
“I never thought about it,” Gaston said of the legislation’s impact on the local court. “It wouldn’t have an impact on [Graddick] anyway.”
The bill has already passed the House. A version introduced by State. Sen. Gerald Dial is awaiting committee action in the Senate. It’s a constitutional amendment, meaning it would be added as a referendum on the November general election ballot if it passes this session.
Since it won’t be decided until November, it will be too late for Graddick to run for his seat this term, if he is so inclined.
In addition to Graddick, the bill could benefit Judge Roderick Stout, who turns 70 in September, according to Stout’s biography on the Circuit Court website.
Neither Graddick nor Stout returned calls seeking comment about the bill last week.
Special Mobile County Circuit Judge James Wood was in the legislature when the maximum age limit was added to the constitution in 1973. He supports Gaston’s legislation.
“I think it’s a good bill,” he said. “I think it should pass.”
The 76-year-old judge, who retired and was appointed as a special judge in 2013, said he’s proof that productive work can happen after age 70.
“I’ve got my mind,” he said. “People live longer now. Times have changed.”
Wood said he still does “odds and ends” for the circuit when needed. Last year, he said, he tried eight or nine jury trials, noting as a retired judge he doesn’t get paid. Regardless, he said he still enjoys the work and is compensated through a state retirement.
“I still feel like I can handle them,” Wood said of his caseload. “There’s only so much gardening you can do.”
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