Montana: hearing today on plan to force judges to recuse if their campaign receives $35 in contributions from party or attorney

I mentioned earlier in the month the plan, then called Draft Bill 1010 now HB 255 that would require judges who receive $35 in campaign contributions from a party or attorney to recuse from the case. A hearing has been scheduled for today on the bill. In addition to the interestingly low threshold of $35, it HB 255 also provides that the voters, not the legislature or governor will get to decide the issue as a referendum item for the November 2016 election.

The hearing, before the House Judiciary Committee will be (audio) streamed live here at 8:00 AM local time (MST), 10 AM EST.


Indiana: bill would bring the total number of trial court types in the state back to 7

There’s a long  fascinating history to the way in which Indiana has organized and reorganized its trial courts, including courts that no longer exist (County Courts, Common Pleas, Quarter Sessions, Justice of the Peace) detailed in this 1997 article. The most recent iteration, the end of the state’s County Courts, occurred only recently. Still, with their end Indiana has one of the largest number of court types in the nation with at the present time 6 (Superior, Circuit, Probate, City, Town, and Small Claims Court of Marion County). A bill, introduced last week, would raise that number back to 7.

Under HB 1523 any city, town, or county could create an ordinance violation court that, as the name implies, would have jurisdiction over only code and ordinance violations. The local governing body would limited to how much it could compel the court to collect as a court fee against a defendant ($200). Judges of the court would be selected by the local governing body to 1 year terms and would not have to be attorneys.

HB 1523 is currently pending in the House Courts and Criminal Code committee.

Arizona: legislator wants to be able to override rules of court set by state supreme court

An effort is now underway in Arizona to strip the state’s supreme court of the rule making powers it has held since 1960. In that year the state adopted the “Modern Courts Amendment” which included a provision that

The supreme court shall have…Power to make rules relative to all procedural matters in any court. (Art. 6, Sec. 5)

Under SCR 1002 of 2015 that power would be “subject to amendment by the legislature by joint resolution or by the people by initiative or referendum.”

The move is almost identical to a proposal in 2002 (SCR 1005) that would have limited rules of procedure adopted by the supreme court only to those “that are not inconsistent with statute.” It died in committee.

The Arizona effort is just the latest in a series of attempts (discussed in a series of posts here last July) by state legislators to curtail or outright take over the constitutional powers of the state supreme courts to set rules of practice and procedure.

UPDATE: To help readers, the July 2014 posts are

SCR 1002 of 2015 has been introduced but not yet assigned to a committee.



Nebraska: Should the Clerk of the Court be elected on a partisan ballot? Bill would replace with nonpartisan elections

Roughly half of the clerks of court for the general jurisdiction trial courts are elected either in partisan or nonpartisan races. In recent years, most notably in Maryland in 2011, efforts were made to change the method of selection to a nonpartisan one. This year two bills are being debated in Nebraska to that end.

First, some background.

Clerks of the Nebraska District Courts are elected on partisan ballots. Since at least the 1970s county residents have been able to gather signatures and put the question of election/appointment by District Judges on the ballot but it doesn’t appear that has occurred, or successfully adopted, in any of Nebraska’s 93 counties.

Since a 1996 law recodified several existing selection laws into the modern statute, there have been several efforts to end the practice of electing clerks on a partisan basis.

  • The first track has been focused on ending election for Clerks altogether and providing they be appointed by the District Judges (LB 994 of 1996; LB 507 & LB 817 of 1997; LB 414 of 1999; LB 348 of 2001; LB 751 of 2003; LB 529 & LB 1096 of 2005).
  • The second track focused instead on moving the positions to a nonpartisan footing, possibly along with other county officials, after a county referendum. (LB 96 of 1999; LB 186 and LB 214 of 2011; LB 241 of 2013)  would have moved the elections to nonpartisan ones, but only smaller counties (i.e. fewer that 10,000-50,000 people).

This year there are two efforts

  • LB 140 provides that for primary elections in counties below 10,000 only candidates for the Clerk of the District Court and other specified county offices would be without party affiliation
  • LB 273 more closely mirrors the prior second-track bills allowing for county voters or the county government in counties with a population below 10,000 (amended to 20,000) to put a referendum on the ballot to make races for the Clerk of the District Court and other specified county offices to nonpartisan ones.


Wyoming: increase to mandatory judicial retirement age advances; judicial term limits amendment fails

For the last decade Wyoming’s legislature (which only meets every two years) has been attempting to increase or eliminate the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 for most judges. In short, the House continued to insist on an outright end to the age, the Senate wanted, at most, an increase from 70 to 75. This year, the House has agreed to the age 75 increase, but that plan nearly got sidetracked by a term limits amendment.

HJR 5 of 2015 started as an outright end to the retirement age. It was amended in committee to provide only for an increase to 75. A floor amendment, however, was made to impose a three-term limits on the state’s top courts (Supreme and District); it failed. The final proposal passed the full House on January 26 on a 49-11 vote.

Week ahead: 1/26/15

January 26, 2015

January 27, 2015

New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee

CACR 3 (Constitutional Amendment) Provides legislature alone shall have the authority and full discretion to define reasonable standards for elementary and secondary public education and to establish reasonable standards of accountability therefore. Provides legislature alone shall have full discretion to determine the amount of, and methods of raising and distributing, state funding for education.

January 28, 2015

Montana House Judiciary Committee

HB 210 Removes specific crime and enhanced penalties for assault on a judge.

Montana House State Administration Committee

Montana HB 220 Defines/redefines “State judicial district” and “judicial district” for purposes of recalling judges. Allows judges of higher courts to be recalled for any reason.

January 29, 2015

New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee

CACR 8 (Constitutional Amendment) Provides judges to be nominated by the Governor **or** the Council (currently Governor AND Council), and confirmed by a majority of the Legislature in joint session.

HB 246 Specifies failure to deliver a jury nullification instruction subjects judge to impeachment for maladministration.

January 30, 2015


Montana: Post Bill of Rights in main entrance of every courthouse

Many states have requirements that certain documents be posted in the entrances of public buildings in general or courthouse in particular. Montana’s 2005 law on the subject, MCA 1-1-540, currently permits and encourages, but doesn’t require, postings of “in God we trust” as the U.S. national motto, the U.S. Constitution in its entirety, the Mayflower Compact, etc.

HB 293, however, changes this from a permissive (“may display”) to a requirement (“must be conspicuously posted”) with respect to the Bill of Rights. Specifically, it creates 1-1-540(3)(a) to read

The first 10 amendments to the United States constitution, commonly known as the bill of rights, must be conspicuously posted in an easily readable form in the main entry areas of city and county courthouses…

HB 293 is set for a hearing before the House Local Government committee on January 27.