Georgia: New statewide Business Court with unique judicial selection system to appear on November 2018 ballot; Superior Courts could still create business divisions

Georgia has one of the most complex trial court systems in the nation, with at least 6 distinct trial courts (Superior, Probate, State, Magistrate, Municipal, and Juvenile). Now voters will decide on a 7th: Business Court.

HR 993 would amend the state’s constitution to create a Business Court. The plan, as amended, would still allow Superior Courts to create their own business court divisions.

Moreover, unlike the state’s other courts which are mostly elected, Business Court judges would be appointed by the Governor. Moreover, unlike any other state, confirmation would be done not by a single chamber (e.g. Senate) or both legislative chambers (as in Connecticut and Tennessee) but by the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rhode Island: House committee holds hearing on bills that would guarantee certain trial court judgeships & 3 seats on Judicial Nominating Commission to “persons of color”

A hearing was held earlier this week on a series of bills filed to address diversity in the Rhode Island judiciary. Video of the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee is here, starts at around 56:30 and ends at around 85:00. During testimony the author of the bills asserted that of Rhode Island’s 85 judges, few are “of color” and that the Judicial Nominating Commission had demonstrated bias in the past against persons of color. Moreover, the lead sponsor accuses some judges in Rhode Island of using their robes “as a lynching opportunity for people of color and poor people.”

The bills were (in order)

HB 7532 Requires that the judicial selection commission be composed of at least three members of color.

HB 7648 Provides any trial court seat currently filled by a “person of color” can only be filled in the future by another “person of color.”

HB 7649 Requires the judicial selection commission actively and aggressively solicit members of color to apply for judicial appointments, including practicing members of the Rhode Island Bar residing in border states.

HB 7908 Requires the judicial nominating commission to consider a nominee’s unique background and field of practice rather than emphasizing trial and courtroom experience in selecting new members of the judiciary.

The House Judiciary committee recommended the measures be held for further study.

Kansas: Senate leaders appear to stop bill to increase funding for public schools until constitutional amendment to strip courts of K-12 funding decisions is passed

A bill to increase funding for Kansas public schools that passed the House will not move in the Senate until both chambers approved a bill to strip to Kansas judiciary of jurisdiction to hear K-12 funding disputes.

First, some background.

As mentioned on this blog over the years the Kansas Supreme Court has issued several decisions finding the legislature’s system and amounts for public education were unconstitutional under a provision that

The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.

Dozens of constitutional amendments detailed here have been filed over the last decade to strip the Kansas courts of jurisdiction to hear cases under this provision and to allow the legislature to set whatever funding levels and funding sources it wished.

The Kansas Supreme Court has given the legislature until April 30 to come up with a constitutional funding formula.

The House, in response, today passed HB 2445 to provide additional funding.

Senate leadership, however, has announced no funding bill will be taken up in the Senate until a constitutional amendment (HCR 5029 or something similar) is approved by the House and Senate and sent to voters. Moreover, local media reports if the amendment fails to pass the House, Senate leaders will simply not take up the funding bill at all.

That amendment would amend the constitution to read

As all political power is inherent in the people, the legislature shall make determine suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state. The determination of the total amount of funding that constitutes suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power, and shall be made as provided by law. Such power is committed to the legislature under article 2 of this constitution and shall be shown due respect by the other branches of government. No court, or other tribunal, established by this constitution or otherwise by law shall alter, amend, repeal or otherwise abrogate such power, nor shall such power be exercised by, either directly or indirectly, by any such court or other tribunal.

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.