The Honorable Judith Wizmur doesn’t have to retire. There’s no mandatory age for federal judges to leave the bench. And she adores her work.
But shortly after she turns 65 next April, Judge Wizmur plans to step down from her post as U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the District of New Jersey.
|Judge Judith Wizmur|
It’s something she wants to do. She has grandkids she’d like to spend more time with. And she has friends who’ve recently experienced “life altering circumstances” that gave her pause – sudden illness and the death of a spouse.
But she’s nervous about leaving her job and what she’ll find afterward.
“I wonder if I’ll fall off the cliff?” she told me the other day.
Within the next five years, a lot of other federal judges will be facing the same dilemma, said Judge Wizmur, who last month chaired a meeting of a Retired Judges Committee. The group, part of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, met in San Diego at the Conference’s annual gathering.
Losing the connections they’ve made with each other is a huge issue.
“The judges have a blog about what’s going on in their courts. The idea of being cut loose from all that is of concern for us,” she said. The group just issued a questionnaire asking retiring judges “what they’d like to see – contact information, news about pensions, and to exchange retirement experiences.” Since many travel, one question was whether they’d like to host traveling judges in their homes.
But the far bigger issue is:
What to do next when what you’re doing now is the best job you’ve ever had or likely ever to have?
(No matter that their salary is a fraction of what lawyers of their caliber can earn. In 2012, federal bankruptcy judges were paid $160,080 a year, with no increase for experience.)
A lot of judges want the next thing to be the same thing, just less of it -- by serving on recall or as a Senior Judge. “People love what they do and want to continue to do it even if not full time. They’ve built up experience and a level of confidence in what they do,” said Judge Wizmur.
No matter that the remuneration is small, she said, with travel expenses sometimes not even covered.
Still, she estimates that more than 50 percent of federal district judges choose to stay around on senior status. Serving on recall for a bankruptcy judge is more difficult, with levels of approval required for every individual case.
Other jobs to which judges are well suited include teaching, which many already do while working.
“And many,” she said, “go into ADR, alternative dispute resolution –arbitration, mediation. Judges are particularly suited to that kind of work.”
But there’s a catch to that route.
“If a bankruptcy judge chooses to do that, it’s considered to be the practice of law and they lose the chance of cost of living increases in their pension for the rest of their lives.”
Judge Wizmur is contemplating ADR, but isn’t sure. Right now she’s focused on reclaiming time.
The life events that have befallen her friends, “made me stop and think about the basic proposition that you don’t know what’s coming around the corner. Time is the most precious commodity and I need to spend time thinking about that commodity.”
As to how she would savour it beyond precious time with her two children, two grandchildren and her mother? “I can think of courses, volunteering, and there’s always the basement and garage,” she said, laughing. “I don’t have a million ideas."
“I wonder about my ability to fall into a routine, to organize myself, to spend the day-to-day in a productive way. Many of us have been working since our teenage years and need organizational tools to run our lives.”
Yes, Judge Judy. That could be an issue. My own organizational tool box disappeared along with my parking spot, office keycard, and my desk. At home, a dozen desires distract me from my day's goals, though deliciously so. Let me know what you learn!
Anyone have any tips on staying organized when you've left the Organization behind?