Pennsylvania: After U.S. Supreme Court declines to overturn PA Supreme Court’s redistricting decisions, 12 PA House members move forward with impeachment of PA Supreme Court justices

A plan to impeach members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for their decision in a gerrymandering case discussed here has now become official.

Justices David N. Wecht, Debra McCloskey Todd, Christine Donohue, and Kevin M. Dougherty are all officially charged with misbehavior in office for their opinion in League of Women Voters of PA, et. al. v. The Commonwealth of PA, et. al., No. 159 MM 2017. The U.S. Supreme yesterday declined to take up a challenge in the case.

Resolutions below

HR 766 (David N. Wecht)

HR 767 (Debra McCloskey Todd)

HR 768 (Christine Donohue)

HR 769 (Kevin M. Dougherty)

UPDATE: The main author of the resolutions was quoted by The Hill as saying

“This is basically 7th grade civics class all over again, the separation of powers and the authority of the legislature,” Dush told The Hill. “The courts basically are there to interpret when there’s conflict in the law, and they don’t have any sovereignty.”


West Virginia: constitutional amendment to give legislature power over judiciary’s budget heads to November ballot; language protecting budget from retaliation for court decisions removed

I mentioned that West Virginia is unique among all states in that the judiciary’s budget request to the legislature cannot be reduced. The West Virginia House and Senate, after disagreeing on specific language, have now sent to voters a plan to put the legislature in charge of the judiciary’s budget (news here and here)

The current constitutional language provides

The Legislature shall not amend the budget bill so as to create a deficit but may amend the bill by increasing or decreasing any item therein. Provided, That no item relating to the judiciary shall be decreased

SJR 3 as made its way through committee looked like this

The Legislature shall may not amend the budget bill so as to create a deficit but may amend the bill by increasing or decreasing any item therein: Provided, That no item relating to the judiciary shall be decreased, Provided, That the Legislature may not make any law that conditions the increase or decrease of an item relating to the judiciary upon a particular ruling, order, or decision of a court of this state

In the end, however, the version approved provides percentages beyond which the legislature may not cut. Gone is anything about protecting the budget from legislative actions based on “a particular ruling, order, or decision of a court of this state.”

That the Legislature shall may not decrease the total general revenue appropriations to the judiciary in the budget bill to an amount that is less than 85 percent of the amount of the total general revenue appropriations to the judiciary in the most recently enacted budget without a separate vote of the Legislature approved by a two-thirds vote of the members elected to each house, determined by yeas and nays and entered on the journals.

SJR 3 goes to voters in November.

Mississippi: Legislature sends to Governor plan to expand Chief Justice’s power to appoint temporary judges to courts; CJ could assign temp judges to particular cases or case types/dockets

The Mississippi Legislature has unanimously advanced to the governor a bill to expand the power of the state’s Chief Justice to appoint “special judges” to help clear up case backlogs.

State law already allows the Chief Justice, with the consent of a majority of the Supreme Court, to make such appointments for the Court of Appeals, Chancery Court, or Circuit Court. Now the Chief Justice could name such temporary special judges to County Courts.

Additionally, rather than simply appointing the temporary judge to a court, the Chief Justice could give the temporary judge particular assignments (“The Chief Justice, in his discretion, may appoint the special judge to hear particular cases, a particular type of case, or a particular portion of the court’s docket.”)


Virginia: plan for online criminal case info system enacted; civil online info system held over for next session; overall case information must be made available, but clerks can charge fee

A plan to put all nonconfidential criminal case information in Virginia online by July 1, 2019 has been signed in law. Among other things HB 780 / SB 564

  1. Defines “confidential court records,” “court records,” and “nonconfidential court records”
  2. Requires the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court to make available to the public an online case information system of nonconfidential information for criminal cases by July 1, 2019. This information will cover circuit courts participating in the Executive Secretary’s case management system and all general district courts.
  3. Provides that requests for reports of aggregated, nonconfidential case data fields that are viewable through the online case information systems maintained by the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court shall be made to the Office of the Executive Secretary. Such reports of aggregated case data shall not include the name, date of birth, or social security number of any party and shall not include images of the individual records in the respective case files. However, nothing in this section shall be construed to permit any reports or aggregated case data to be sold or posted on any other website or in any way redistributed to any third party. The Executive Secretary, in his discretion, may deny such request to ensure compliance with these provisions. However, such data may be included in products or services provided to a third party, provided that such data is not made available to the general public.
  4. Provides a clerk of court or the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court shall make nonconfidential court records or reports of aggregated, nonconfidential case data available to the public upon request.
  5. Specifies that such records or reports shall be provided no later than 30 days after the request.
  6. Provides that the clerk may charge a fee for responding to such request that shall not exceed the actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, reviewing, supplying, or searching for the requested records.

A set of bill to put civil case information online in similar fashion (SB 980) cleared the Senate but was held in the House Courts of Justice Committee until the 2019 session.

South Carolina: bill out of committee requires Magistrate Court Judges have at least a four-year baccalaureate degree, requires attorney-judges in counties over 75k

South Carolina maintains 5 trial courts, one of which is Magistrate Court (in many/most states a “magistrate” is a quasi-judicial officer of some other court, not a judge of a separate court). South Carolina Magistrate Court Judges are appointed by the governor with senate confirmation and have both civil and criminal jurisdiction, but aren’t required to be lawyers or even to have graduated college; a GED is all that is required. That may change under a bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee this week.

HB 4811 as filed provided that starting in July 2018 newly appointed Magistrate Court Judges must have received a four-year baccalaureate degree. In counties over 75,000, the judges must also be a licensed attorney. The version as amended in committee extends the deadline to July 2019.

HB 4811 now goes to the full House.

Florida: Senate bill would make several changes to judiciary; court security, civil jurisdiction limits, Supreme Court justice remote chambers; bill may require 2/3rds majority

A bill approved last week by the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee and set for a full Senate vote soon effectively merges several bills into one with potential major ramifications for the courts.

SB 1396 as it presently reads includes

  • A new section of law regarding the role and responsibility of sheriffs to provide court security and the authority of chief judges in this area. The language appears to be similar if not identical to portions of HB 7089 discussed here.
  • Increases the civil jurisdiction for the state’s County Courts from $15,000 to $50,000 effective 2020.
  • Authorizes a Supreme Court justice who resides outside of Tallahassee to maintain his or her headquarters in a district court of appeal courthouse, a county courthouse, or other appropriate facility in the justice’s district and be reimbursed for travel and subsistence while in Tallahassee.
  • The addition of judges to certain Circuits

This last item may prove a sticking point. Under the state’s constitution the supreme court “certifies” the number of judges needed in each Circuit Court or County Court. If the legislature wants to alter the supreme court’s numbers up or down, it must have “a finding of two-thirds of the membership of both houses of the legislature.”

Wyoming: Legislature approves court information technology equipment bill; provides whether judiciary or counties are responsible

Earlier this week the Wyoming legislature approved SF 24, an attempt to specify the responsibilities for court information technology equipment between the state judicial branch and county governments.

Key elements of the bill include:

  1. Defines “Court information technology equipment” (hardware equipment located in state court facilities necessary to meet, but not exceed, court information technology equipment standards adopted by the board of judicial policy and administration)
  2. Defines “State court facility” to include circuit and district courtrooms, circuit and district court jury rooms, circuit and district court judges’ chambers and the offices of circuit court clerks. Wyoming does have municipal courts, but these are not discussed.
  3. Implementation of court information technology equipment that requires alteration of a county building requires consultation with the board of county commissioners or the board’s appointed designee.
  4. The supreme court shall install court information technology equipment in all state court facilities in a phased approach. Upon installation of court information technology equipment in a state court facility, the supreme court shall maintain and support the equipment installed by the supreme court.
  5. Each county shall provide and maintain infrastructure to ensure the proper function of court information technology equipment including, but not limited to, requisite power outlets, network drops, audio and visual drops and associated wiring for connectivity of all endpoints and peripherals associated with court information technology equipment.

SF 24 now goes to the governor.