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Monday, May 19, 2008

Moorhead, mandatory retirement and slavery

I was in beautiful Moorhead, Minn., last Friday for the Seventh District Bar Association's annual meeting, which was held at the Hjemkomst Center. (Please don't ask me to pronounce the center's name, but it's the place that has the cool replica Viking ship.)

It looked to be a decent turn out in what is one of the most geographically expansive districts (stretching all the way from Moorhead to St. Cloud). The meeting even featured a guest appearance by none other than Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Edward Toussaint Jr., who noted that the court has been keeping pretty busy with a heavy caseload and, despite the recent addition of a new three-judge panel, is currently down three judges.

One of the more interesting moments came when Minnesota State Bar Association President-Elect Michael Ford (photo above) started discussing some issues he will make priorities during his upcoming tenure as bar president. Never one to be skittish about such things, Ford soon waded into the controversial subject of mandatory retirement. He noted some law firms force partners to retire at 70, notwithstanding how much they still might have to offer. It's a practice Ford strongly opposes. He also pointed out the state has the same forced-retirement policy with judges -- a practice that has resulted in the state losing some very able jurists, such as John Simonett, who still have a good decade or more to offer when they are forced off the bench.

Ford pointed out that some view the mandatory retirement of judges as a pruning mechanism to get rid of judges who are on auto-pilot after years on the bench or who maybe should never have been appointed to the bench in the first place. He compared such arguments to economic arguments made favoring slavery during the 1800s. Presumably Ford's point was that even if an unfair and immoral practice arguably has a utilitarian purpose, that does not justify the practice. The better practice would be, of course, to find a way to get rid of the bad apples rather than sweeping away all judges over the age of 69.

Ford acknowledged that some would view the slavery-argument comparison as controversial, but also pointed out that he is not one to hold his tongue (which, as he himself noted, could make for an interesting year for the State Bar). In any event, Ford, a St. Cloud attorney, was well-received by the crowd from his home district, which he affectionately refers to as "The Mighty 7th."

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