Judge Janice Clark

Judge Janice Clark

A longtime Baton Rouge district judge who was told last week that she’s too old to run for another term claims Louisiana's mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 is nothing more than a “voter suppression tool.”

Janice Clark, 73, is asking the Louisiana Supreme Court to reverse its July 21 ruling upholding the age cap and send her age discrimination lawsuit back to a lower court for trial.

Clark, who has been a 19th Judicial District Court judge since 1992, filed qualifying papers Friday despite the high court's decision. She has not ruled out seeking relief in federal court. Federal judges are appointed for life.

In a rehearing application filed late Tuesday at the state Supreme Court, Clark's attorneys contend the mandatory retirement age for judges "results in voter suppression because the voters are not allowed to vote for candidates of their choice regardless of the age of the candidate."

"This Court's ruling relies on the conclusive presumption that judges over 70 are somehow less qualified than their younger counterparts," lawyers Ernest Johnson and Arthur Thomas also argue in the rehearing petition.

Judges who reach 70 while in office are allowed to finish their term. Clark's six-year term expires at the end of the year.

The Louisiana Judiciary Commission is the agency that makes recommendations to the state Supreme Court concerning the removal of judges. Ultimately, it is up to the high court to remove a judge from the bench.

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Another local jurist, 1st Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Toni Higginbotham, also qualified Friday to seek another 10-year term despite being 74.

The state Supreme Court said last week that changing the mandatory retirement age could only happen with a change to the state constitution. Voters roundly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment in 2014 that would have done away with the age cap of 70.

Baton Rouge attorneys Dele Adebamiji and William "Will" Jorden also qualified last week to run for the Division D seat held by Clark.

In addition to Higginbotham, three other candidates qualified for the 2nd District, Subdistrict 1, Division A seat that she has held since 2010. They are Baton Rouge City Court Judge Chris Hester and lawyers Melanie Newkome Jones and Johanna R. Landreneau.

The mandatory retirement age for judges also could be an issue in a Baton Rouge City Court runoff race on the Aug. 15 ballot between lawyers Johnell Matthews and Whitney Higginbotham Greene, who is Toni Higginbotham’s daughter.

Matthews was 69 when she qualified in January to run in what was to be an April 4 election, but the coronavirus pandemic and resulting statewide stay-at-home order pushed the election date back to July 11. She turned 70 in early June.

Matthews says she should not be penalized for a pandemic pushing the election date beyond her 70th birthday.

Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.