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.

Maryland: Senate committee debated whether parties in a civil case should be automatically given continuances, without judicial approval, if the parties agree

A plan introduced earlier this year in the Maryland Senate could have effectively stripped judges in civil cases of the ability to deny many continuances.

SB 250, as introduced, provided that if all parties to a civil proceeding agreed to a continuance “a court shall continue” the proceeding.

Current law provides a continuance may be granted. And Maryland’s top court in December 2016 adopted a rule (Rule 16-804) regarding continuances.

SB 250 came up for a hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee February 2 where the author indicated lawyers were complaining of judges not granting continuances. The state’s top judge (Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera) testified in committee against the bill, indicating her concern the detrimental impact on the courts and the court’s ability to set and arrange calendaring.

SB 250 failed to advance out of committee.

Pennsylvania: bill would require drug testing of judges and other elected officials; similar drug-testing-judges law struck down in 1998

Over the last several decades there has been a push to drug test those who are on any kind of public assistance and, in response, efforts by state legislators to put the same sort of drug testing requirements on public officials, including in many instances judges (I discussed this phenomena at length here and here and here).

This year’s version comes from Pennsylvania as HB 1655 which would require candidates who seek to serve as judges to, along with their nomination petitions, submit to a drug test. The same requirement would be imposed on anyone seeking to be elected to local, state, or federal office from or in Pennsylvania.

If enacted, HB 1655 is likely to face a court challenge. In 1997, the same year Louisiana mandated drug testing for certain adult recipients of public assistance (HB 2435), the state enacted a process for random drug testing of all “elected officials” (HB 646). The elected officials plan was struck down in 1998 by the Federal courts when Justice of the Peace Phillip O’Neill and other elected officials challenged the law. (O’Neill v. Louisiana., E.D. La. 1998, 61 F.Supp.2d 485, affirmed 197 F.3d 1169, cert. denied 120 S.Ct. 2740, 530 U.S. 1274, 147 L.Ed.2d 2005).

 

Ohio: House-approved bill allows people found to carry a gun into a courthouse to avoid charges if they simply leave

The Ohio House last week approved a plan that could expand the carrying of guns into courthouses in the state.

Under current law (R.C. 2923.126(B)(3)) a concealed carry license doesn’t allow for a person to carry a concealed gun into “A courthouse or another building or structure in which a courtroom is located, in violation of section 2923.123 of the Revised Code.”)

Currently a person who does carry into a courthouse is guilty of a felony under R.C. 2319.123(A) and (B).

However, under HB 233 as approved by the House, the person with a concealed carry license would be able to avoid the felony charge if they simply leave the courthouse. Moreover, if they remained or came back with a gun within 30 days, they would be charged only with a misdemeanor under a new law (R.C. 2923.1214).

A person who has a valid concealed handgun license or who is a qualified military member and who is discovered conveying, possessing, or controlling a deadly weapon in violation of division (A) or (B) of this section is subject to removal from the premises but is not guilty of illegal conveyance of a deadly weapon or dangerous ordnance into a courthouse or of illegal possession or control of a deadly weapon or dangerous ordnance in a courthouse, as applicable . If the person refuses or fails to leave the premises upon being requested to do so by the individual in control of the premises or by that individual’s agent or employee, or returns within thirty days to the same premises while knowingly in possession of a deadly weapon in violation of this section, the person is guilty of criminal trespass with a deadly weapon, as described in section 2923.1214 of the Revised Code

HB 233 has been sent to the Senate.

Delaware: legislators introduce resolution to ask state supreme court whether the public school system is constitutional

I’ve mentioned the highly contentious issue of school funding and its impact on efforts to limit state court systems such as stripping the courts of jurisdiction to hear K-12 funding lawsuits. Now members of the Delaware legislature want that state’s supreme court to weigh in via an advisory opinion.

Delaware state law (10 Del. C. 141) allows for the Governor or a majority of the legislature to request an advisory opinion from the supreme court. In this instance, the request to the state’s supreme court comes after a recent Chancery Court decision in Young v. Red Clay Consol. Sch. Dist. determined that a local school district broke election rules when it passed a voter referendum to raise taxes to pay for schools. In that opinion, the court noted that the case “stems from the dysfunction in Delaware’s system for funding public schools” (media coverage here).

SCR 38 asks the supreme court two questions:

  1. What does “efficient system of free public schools” mean for purposes of the General Assembly’s obligations under § 1, Article X of the Delaware Constitution?
  2. Does Delaware’s public school system, given the features set forth in the above Whereas clauses, meet the definition of an “efficient system”?

Nominate Gavel to Gavel for ABA Journal’s Web 100 of 2017; deadline 7/30/17!

Thanks to your support Gavel to Gavel the blog has been named one of the ABA Journal Top 100 Blawgs (law blogs) four of the last five years!

The ABA Journal is seeking nominations again this year starting today and running through Sunday, July 30, 2017.

If you enjoy Gavel to Gavel and would like to show your support, visit the ABA Journal Web 100 Amici page and suggest Gavel to Gavel.

Thank you!

Pennsylvania: constitutional amendment would require non-attorneys pass exam before they can even run for judicial office; currently they can run and be elected, but can’t assume office

The Pennsylvania Constitution currently provides that justices of the peace (referred to in statute as magisterial district court judges) are to be elected. For non-attorneys election is only the first step, they must then “complete a course of training and instruction in the duties of their respective offices and pass an examination prior to assuming office.”

This presents a problem: what happens if the non-attorney doesn’t pass the exam? Or take the course at all?

Back in the 1970s the state legislature tried to require non-attorneys take the exam prior to running for office to avoid this, but it was struck down as unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court (Flegal v. Dixon, 472 Pa. 249, 372 A.2d 406 (1977))

The Act’s imposition of the additional requirement that the instruction and examination be completed before filing nominating petitions is therefore unconstitutional.

Now, members of the Pennsylvania House wants to amend the constitution to in effect overturn Flegal.

Under HB 1645 as introduced a non-attorney would have to take the course and pass the exam prior to even being nominated or running for office.

HB 1645 has been filed in the House Judiciary Committee.

This isn’t the first time legislators have attempted amend the state’s constitution to require non-attorney pass the exam before they can run for office. Similar efforts were made on the Senate side (SB 521 of 2015; SB 170 of 2013; SB 57 of 2011; SB 1119 of 2009; SB 696 of 2007), none of which advanced out of committee.