After 26 years, Brooklyn Appellate Court Judge John Leventhal is not in his judicial robe. He’s wearing a fleece as he cleans out his chambers.
“Thirteen years as a trial judge, 13 years as an appellate judge, it’s a difficult, nostalgic time,” said Leventhal.
He’s being forced off the bench and out of a job he says he loves.
At 72-years-old, Leventhal is one of 46 Supreme Court judges across the state over 70-years-old, told to pack up their offices. They will no longer have their jobs after December 31 because of the state’s crushing budget deficit, a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Because of the crime that we are over 70, we are really being ousted, basically, because we are old,” said Levental.
State Supreme judges, including ones in the appellate division, can work past the mandatory retirement age of 70 if they are re-certified. The certifications are needed every two years until they reach 76.
Normally, it’s a formality. But now it has been denied for 46 out of 49 judges who applied this year.
That will save around $60 million.
The judges, many from the five boroughs, say they are fit for the job and judges are needed.
In two separate lawsuits, judges are accusing their own court administration of age discrimination.
On Thursday, a Suffolk County Judge ruled the appellate judges can move forward with their case after the court administration tried to get it thrown out. The case with other justices is still pending.
“If we throughout our careers have protected individuals’ rights, sometimes against the abuses of government, how could we not be there for ourselves," explained Leventhal.
In response to the lawsuits, the state office of court administration is blasting the judges and their cases as selfish.
"They are all about 46 senior judges with six figure pensions and health benefits refusing to relinquish their positions, with little regard to both the legal and fiscal realities staring them in the face," said court spokesman Lucian Chalfen.
Judge Leventhal disagrees.
“We serve the public our whole lives. My background, I was a math school teacher in the South Bronx. I was the grievance director for a labor union. I was always working in public service. So it is really ridiculous to portray us as villains.”
In Leventhal’s opinion, once the courts are fully reopened after the pandemic, criminal trials to personal injury cases will be backlogged with fewer judges to handle them. He says that will hurt a lot of people in the state.