Age limit to oust some Louisiana court officials

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A new law preventing anyone 70 or older from running for constable or justice of the peace in Louisiana is facing stiff opposition — especially among the officials who are about to be banned from re-election because of their age.
The mandatory retirement provision was signed into law in June with little fanfare. Now, however, the law is drawing fire as the deadline for filing to run in the November election approaches next week. Some of the court officials affected by the new law say they intend to run anyway, even though it says they are too old.
“I’m 77 years of age, but I feel that I’m more qualified and capable of being a justice of the peace at this age than I was when I was elected 42 years ago,” said Lynwood Broussard, who represents a ward in Lafayette Parish in south-central Louisiana. “I feel that the people in my district should decide if I’m capable or too old to represent them.”
A law that sets a mandatory retirement age of 70 for constables and justices of the peace has been on the books since 2006. The law excluded anyone elected before then. Republican state Sen. Elbert Guillory’s bill removed that exemption, a change that will affect about 160 officials.
Guillory says he sponsored the law on behalf of a constituent who said he represented the Louisiana Justice of the Peace and Constables Association. Guillory said the man raised concerns that the local officials are allowed to carry weapons under state law, while “in wheelchairs, some on oxygen tanks.”
“That sounded pretty reasonable,” Guillory said.
But the association denies any involvement in the bill.
“Absolutely not. Put that in big huge bold letters and bold quotes. We did not ask for this and in no way wanted this,” said Connie Moore, a St. Tammany Parish justice of the peace and president of the association.
The story gets murkier from there.
Guillory said he doesn’t know the name of the person who requested the bill and can’t track him down because the man used a disposable phone to make the call. And while Moore said her association didn’t support the bill, no one from the organization raised public objections as the measure was moving through the Legislature over the course of a month.
Only one state lawmaker voted against the bill. But lawmakers now hit with criticism from local elected officials about to be ousted say they didn’t realize what the bill did, though its implications were explained during committee and floor hearings.
Moore said several officials have said they intend to defy the law and run for re-election.
“I’ve told them they really need to think carefully about that,” Moore said.
One of those officials planning to sign up for re-election during the three-day qualifying period next week is Broussard, who hasn’t faced an opponent since 1979.
“If they bring me to district court, I’m going to prove that that law that they passed is unconstitutional. You cannot discriminate against us because of age,” he said.
Guillory said he’ll introduce a bill next year to reverse the age restriction. But that will be too late for those pushed out of office. Others will be settling into their six-year terms by that time.
Even Guillory, who turned 70 about six weeks ago, doesn’t see a need for mandatory retirement ages. He said he thought he was doing a favor for the justice of the peace and constables association.
Louisiana has a restriction in its state constitution that requires judges to retire after reaching age 70 and finishing their current terms, but that has been criticized as discriminatory. Voters in November will be considering whether to repeal that provision — during the same election that will dislodge scores of justices of the peace and constables at or older than 70.

MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press

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