A judicial age limit stays put, and Cuomo gets his court

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Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. (Models for Change.)
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ALBANY—Gov. Andrew Cuomo might be able to pack the state's highest court after all.

The apparent failure of a proposal to extend the mandatory age for judicial retirement means Cuomo would be able to appoint a majority of the state's highest court if he wins a second term.

With 68 percent of votes reporting, 61.9 percent of voters rejected the ballot measure compared to 38.1 percent in support. The proposal was the political child of Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who lobbied court groups and editorial boards to support it. Court officials also sent a memo to judges around the state, offering them supportive talking points. Had the referendum passed, Lippman, 68, would have been able to sit on the bench for another decade.

A PAC supporting the change sent several mailers on the issue, but with the casino referendum on the ballot, it did not gain much attention.

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When it did, though, it was often presented as a battle between Lippman and Cuomo. The governor stopped short of saying he didn't support its provisions, but he did publicly note several flaws.

There was an obvious political interest for Cuomo: had the referendum passed, Lippman as well as Court of Appeals colleagues Bob Smith and Eugene Pigott would not have been forced into retirement in coming years.

The amendment would have applied to justices of the state's trial-level supreme courts, as well as the appellate division and the nine-judge Court of Appeals. Those judges must retire after reaching their 70th birthday, while lower-level justices can currently receive two-year waivers allowing them to serve until 76.

Critics of the proposition noted it did not apply to family court or county court judges, where the shortage on the bench is most acute.