Voters this fall will decide whether to amend Oregon’s constitution to allow judges who are 75 or older to continue to serve. Currently, Oregon’s judicial retirement requirement mandates that a judge of any court retire at the end of the calendar year in which “he” reaches the age of 75 years.
Because of the existing age limit, some who want to run for office this year were told by the Secretary of State’s office that they’re ineligible. That also applies to elected county officials with the title of “judge,” who hold the chief county executive office.
Seven Oregon counties are led by a judge as the lead executive, instead of a commission chair. Those judges’ responsibilities are largely administrative and not judicial. But because some of those judges have probate jurisdiction, the mandatory retirement age also applies.
Herb Vloedman wants to run for for Harney County judge, but is ineligible to be on the ballot because of age. He turns 75 in July.
“I’m biased, but I don’t think it’s fair,” Vloedman said.
Vloedman is one of two candidates who tried to run this year, but was turned down because of his age. He said he didn’t realize he was too old until someone at the county courthouse alerted him.
“I probably had the deer-in-the-headlight look ‘cause I didn’t have a clue,” Vloedman said. “I’ve never hidden my age. I’m 74 today, I’ll be 75 July 11.”
In a letter to Vloedman, Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins wrote, “There is no doubt that the age limit in the Constitution has deprived Oregon of the valuable service of many qualified and capable people, and I am truly sorry if that is the case here as well.”
Oregon has no mandatory retirement age for other elected officials, nor does the federal court system have age limits for judges. Since 2012, six candidates for judicial judge or county executive judge positions have been deemed ineligible to run because of age.
In November, voters will decide whether to amend Oregon’s constitution to repeal the mandatory retirement age for judges.
Vloedman is opting to run a write-in campaign for the seat, since he can’t be on the official ballot. In order for him to accept the position should he win the election in November, the constitutional amendment repealing the age limit would also need to pass.
Vloedman sees the age limit as ageism.
“Right now I’m not getting equal treatment,” Vloedman said. “Anyone that’s been in any kind of write-in [campaign] knows that the odds are stacked against you.”