Michigan: Senate unanimously approves bills requiring state court administrative office certify all veterans, drug, DWI, and mental health courts

A set of bills previously discussed here, that require Michigan judges/courts that want to operate special problem solving dockets be certified by the state court administrator’s office has cleared that state’s Senate (news report here).

SB 435 (drug courts), SB 436 (DWI/sobriety courts), SB 437 (mental health courts), and SB 438 (veterans courts) provide that existing or new problem solving courts/dockets must be certified (“The state court administrative office shall establish the procedure for certification.”) or will be shut down starting January 1, 2018.

The bills are “tie-barred”, meaning for one to pass, they must all pass.

The bills have now been assigned to the House Law and Justice Committee.

California: bill would no longer allow candidates for judicial office to put “disingenuous and histrionic” words next to their names on the ballot

California law (Elec Code § 13107) allows for those seeking judicial office to designate their current principal professions, vocations, or occupation with up to a 3 word description plus the word or phrase “appointed incumbent” or “incumbent” if the person is a currently serving as a judge.

The result has been in several recent judicial races candidates currently serving as Deputy District Attorneys using the 3-word description of their current position not as Deputy District Attorney but as “Child Molestation Prosecutor”, “Hardcore Gang Prosecutor”, or “Sexual Predator Prosecutor”  or other similar phrases (see page 12 here for the 2016 Los Angeles County ballot). This hyperbole isn’t limited to prosecutors, with other attorneys adding words like “virtuous” or “eminent” or “leading” to their descriptions.

The author of the bill called these descriptors “disingenuous and histrionic.”

SB 235 as approved by the Senate earlier this year 34-1 and up for a vote possibly as early as this week would limit the 3 word descriptors.

  1. Prosecutors and others who are in government jobs would be limited to using their actual job title as defined by statute or local charter (e.g. Deputy District Attorney) + the geographic location OR “Attorney,” “Attorney at Law,” “Lawyer,” or “Counselor at Law.”
  2. Private practice attorneys would be limited to “Attorney,” “Attorney at Law,” “Lawyer,” or “Counselor at Law.”
  3. For both types of lawyers, “Attorney” and “Lawyer” could be used in combination with other words, but only words describing the profession or vocation: “Family Lawyer” would appear to be OK but “Eminent Family Lawyer” apparently wouldn’t.

Publication Note: my article in Trends in State Courts on Maintaining Court Operations When Disaster Strikes: Emergency Powers

Given the current hurricane season, I recently wrote and published in Trends in State Courts a review of recent efforts, mostly by legislatures, to give courts more power to handle disasters.

Maintaining Court Operations When Disaster Strikes: Emergency Powers

What happens when a courthouse is rendered unusable following a man-made or natural disaster? Many states have started to grant special powers to chief justices and court leadership to help courts meet these challenges.

Call for Submissions: Trends in State Courts

Trends in State Courts is an annual, peer-reviewed publication that highlights innovative practices in critical areas that are of interest to courts, and often serves as a guide for developing new initiatives and programs, and informing and supporting policy decisions.

Trends in State Courts is the only publication of its kind and enjoys a wide circulation among the state court community. It is distributed in hard copy and electronically.

Submissions for the 2018 edition are now being accepted. Please email abstracts of no more than 500 words by October 13, 2017 to Deborah Smith at dsmith@ncsc.org. Abstracts received after this date are welcome and will be considered for later editions or for our monthly online version.

In addition to the Trends 2018 publication, we have monthly articles on our Trends website with a rolling submission process.

Suggested topics might include:

  • Opioid Crisis
  • Security (Judicial, Cybersecurity)
  • Rural Courts
  • Safety (Children, Elders, Community)
  • Human Trafficking
  • Pretrial Risk Assessment
  • Problem Solving Courts
  • Well Being
  • Other

Visit the Trends in State Courts website at www.ncsc.org/trends .

Illinois: new law requires posting in public areas of courthouses detailing how to file disciplinary complaints against trial judges

A bill in the Illinois House discussed here and here that would require courthouses have postings of how to file a disciplinary complaint against trial judges has been signed into law.

HB 3054 as filed contained 3 elements

  1. All Circuit Judges must announce that a person can file a complaint against him or her with the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board prior to calling the first case of the day.
  2. The Clerk of the Circuit Court must make a Judicial Inquiry Board complaint form with instructions available.
  3. The Clerk must also post within each courtroom a notice that a person may file a complaint against the judge and that instructions for filing a complaint may be obtained from the clerk.

HB 3054 as amended and enacted removes Item 1 entirely and heavily modifies Items 2 and 3. The new bill provides

The clerk shall post in the common areas of the courthouse a notice that a person may file a complaint against the judge that includes contact information for the Judicial Inquiry Board. The Judicial Inquiry Board shall develop a uniform statewide notice and provide the format of the notice to each clerk.

HB 3054 has an effective date of January 1, 2018.

 

Florida: 2017 bill passed by Senate to levy civil fines and remove from office judges who try to stop the carrying of guns into courthouses already prefiled for 2018

Earlier this year I mentioned Florida SB 616. Under the 2017 bill the firearm permit holders would have been allowed to carry guns into courthouses, or at least those portions not directly used by the courts (such as courtrooms and chambers). Judges who attempted to prohibit courthouse carry were threatened with civil fines and removal from office by the Governor. It was approved by the Senate but went nowhere in the House.

Now, SB 616 of 2017 has been refiled as SB 134 of 2018. It again threatens judges with civil fines and removal from office if they attempt to issue an administrative order stopping courthouse carry or altering the definition of “courthouse” to be broader than the limited-space definition provided in SB 134 (emphasis added).

A local ordinance, administrative rule, administrative order, or regulation that is in conflict with the definition of the term “courthouse” in this subsection or the rights set forth under subparagraph (12)(a)4. is preempted to the Legislature under s. 790.33. The person, justice, judge, county, agency, municipality, district, or other entity that enacts or causes to be enforced a local ordinance, administrative rule, administrative order, or regulation that is preempted is subject to the penalties set forth in s. 790.33, including, but not limited to, civil fines and removal from office by the Governor.

SB 134 has not yet been assigned to a committee.

South Dakota: Initiated Constitutional Amendment would require judges recuse for campaign contributions; new State Government Accountability Board would have power over judges

A proposed South Dakota constitutional amendment, currently circulating for signatures, could require the state’s judges to recuse in cases involving campaign contributors.

In 2016 voters in the state passed IM 22, amending state statutes related to campaign finance and lobbying laws. While approved by voters, the legislature effectively rewrote and overturned the measure during its 2017 session.

In June proponents of IM returned with a new proposal, this time a constitutional amendment, that includes some of IM 22’s provisions and several new ones, including one focused on judges.

Under Section 11 of the proposed constitutional amendment

A judge shall avoid the appearance of bias, and shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which monetary or in-kind support related to the judge’s election or retention creates an appearance of bias to a reasonable person.

Circuit judges in South Dakota are subject to non-partisan elections, while South Dakota Supreme Court judges are appointed via a merit/commission based system and subject to yes/no retention elections.

In addition the legislatively created State Government Accountability Board would be replaced with a new board of the same name with the power to investigate both legislators and judges, including the power to adopt rules of ethics that would be binding on judges and to investigate judges for violations of those ethics or existing ethics/corruptions statutes. Moreover, the Board would have the power to impose sanctions on judges.

The initiative requires 27,741 signatures to be gathered and submitted to the secretary of state by November 2017 to appear on the November 2018 ballot.