Why are judges against term limits?
A new battleground has formed in what is being cast as a power struggle between the legislative and judicial branches of our Florida government. The legislature has introduced a bill to limit appellate judges to two six-year terms on the bench. According to a recent article in the Tampa Bay Times, the judges are fighting back with a lobbyist, a former judge, who is being paid with Florida Bar Membership dues. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/judges-hire-ex-colleague-hawkes-to-fight-term-limits-proposal/2259489
Ironically, this lobbyist is Paul Hawkes who, according to the report, resigned his position with the First District Court of Appeal rather than face a trial before the Judicial Qualifications Commission (and securing pension benefits in the process). Ironic, because term limits would help rid the courts of judges unworthy of the position without the cost and political fallout of removal by the Judicial Qualifications Commission. And unfortunately, voter apathy or ignorance often means that politically connected judges with unsavory or unremarkable backgrounds (whose most notable achievement is cajoling an appointment to the bench from self-interested state officials) are immune from retention votes.
It is also ironic because, according to the Tampa Bay Times, Hawkes was accused of over-aggressively lobbying legislators to fund what became known as the “Taj Mahal”—a posh $50 million courthouse. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/facing-ethics-trial-taj-mahal-courthouse-judge-paul-hawkes-says-hes/1201980 Apparently, behavior that called into question his suitability for a robe is just the sort of skill set the remaining judges would want him to employ to keep them in office.
Many would say that term limits robs the judiciary of experience. Others would say that experience is unnecessary when the appellate courts routinely dispose of cases without opinions, abdicating their essential two-fold mission: shaping the law and giving litigants the comforting impression that their arguments had been thoughtfully considered. One might wonder why judges would fight so hard against term limits. If the concept is good enough for the two other branches of Florida government, why not the judiciary?
Lawtender submits that the term-limits battle is not a power struggle between two branches of government, but a struggle of the governed against those that would view their office in the judiciary as an appointment for life to their own private, inviolable fiefdom.