North Carolina: Legislature wants to redraw all judicial districts, votes not to hold judicial primaries next year, governor vetoes, legislature overrides

Since at least 2015 North Carolina’s legislature has taken a particular interest in redrawing the maps for the state’s judicial districts (see here). Having switched to partisan judicial races in the last 12 months, the anticipation was that NC judges would run in primaries in the existing districts in the 2018. Now, however, it appears there will be no primaries at all.

SB 656, entitled the Electoral Freedom Act of 2017, includes various changes to election laws in the state. Most critically for the judiciary, however, was Section 4, which eliminates the 2019 primaries for judges and district attorneys.

North Carolina’s governor vetoed the bill, claiming in part that this denied people the right to vote on their judges and was a first step to transfer the power to select judges away from the people and to the legislature. News reports indicate a “assisted appointment” selection plan has been discussed in the North Carolina General Assembly that would effective give the legislature control over initial selection/appointment to judicial office.

The legislature then proceeded to override the veto.

Meanwhile, the effort to redraw judicial districts (HB 717) was approved by the House in October and is in the Senate.

Michigan: new laws require 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 been signed by that state’s governor (press release 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.

Publication note: my chapter in The Book of the States 2017 – Chief Justices as Leaders: Roles & Challenges

I have this in The Book of the States 2017.

Chief Justices as Leaders: Roles & Challenges

State chief justices are not only the leaders of an individual appellate court, but often exercise leadership and administrative authority over an entire state’s judicial branch. How far that authority goes and how individual chief justices exercise that leadership varies and may change depending on whether the chief justice is addressing leadership of their individual appellate court or as a leader in the justice system as a whole.

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.