Maine: One sentence bill directs judicial branch to upgrade its computer system

Typically legislation related to a state judiciary’s computer system(s) are parts of budget bills or sections of other non-appropriations bills related to the judiciary. Maine’s HB 644 of 2011, however, may go on record as the single shortest and most direct piece of legislation on the matter ever.

Below is the sum total of the bill (formatting in original):

Resolve, To Streamline the Judicial Process in Maine’s Courts

Sec. 1. Judicial Department to upgrade its computer system. Resolved: That the Judicial Department shall design and implement a plan to upgrade its computer system to ensure access by Maine citizens and attorneys to electronic filing and scheduling online.

The bill’s summary is almost as long as the bill itself:

This resolve directs the Judicial Department to design and implement a plan to upgrade its computer system to ensure access by Maine citizens and attorneys to electronic filing and scheduling online.

The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee, but presumably it would be sent to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Interesting note: Maine is one of three states (Connecticut and Massachusetts are the others) that rely primarily on joint judiciary committees.

Cross-posted to Court Technology Bulletin.

Arkansas’ unique constitutional trigger allowing for Court of Appeals merit selection may be, er, triggered

With the recent efforts in Kansas and Iowa, one might get the impression all state legislators have it out for merit selection for intermediate appellate courts. Not in the case of at least some members of the Arkansas legislature.

In 2000, the state adopted Amendment 80 which effectively restructured the entire state’s judiciary, consolidated many of the smaller local courts into a new district court, etc. Section 18 specifically and explicitly maintained the existing nonpartisan election system, but with a “trigger” provision. Instead of changing the nonpartisan election system via another constitutional amendment, the legislature (with or without the governor, it is not clear) can simply pass a bill sending the issue to the voters. Of course, given that the Arkansas constitution allows for an amendment to be submitted to the public with a single session majority vote, it is not clear this is any harder than a flat-out constitutional amendment would be.

(A) Supreme Court Justices and Court of Appeals Judges shall be elected on a nonpartisan basis by a majority of qualified electors voting for such office. Provided, however, the General Assembly may refer the issue of merit selection of members of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals to a vote of the people at any general election. If the voters approve a merit selection system, the General Assembly shall enact laws to create a judicial nominating commission for the purpose of nominating candidates for merit selection to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

(B) Vacancies in these offices shall be filled by appointment of the Governor, unless the voters provide otherwise in a system of merit selection.

SB 744 of 2011 would trigger the merit selection provision for the Court of Appeals only, leaving the Supreme Court with nonpartisan races. Because Amendment 80 leaves the composition and details of the judicial nominating commissions to the legislature to figure out after approval, the ballot language is spartan:


[ ] FOR authorizing the General Assembly to establish a merit selection system for the appointment of judges to the Court of Appeals
[ ] AGAINST authorizing the General Assembly to establish a merit selection system for the appointment of judges to the Court of Appeals

The only question I have is whether such a separate treatment is permitted. Amendment 80 uses the phrase “Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals” at each opportunity. Will opponents make the argument that it is a joint proposition (i.e. that you can have merit for neither or both)? Anyone familiar with Arkansas jurisprudence care to chime in?

The bill is currently pending in the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

Unable to change merit selection for Supreme Court, Iowa legislators look to end it for Court of Appeals

I mentioned last week a statutory effort to end merit selection for the Kansas Court of Appeals. I noted at the time that these intermediate appellate courts, because they are often created by statute, are also able to have their selection methods changed by statute alone (vs. a constitutional amendment).This week, it is Iowa, likely in partial response to anger and angst over the state’s supreme court ruling in favor of same sex marriage several years ago.

The Iowa Constitution guarantees merit selection for that court (and the lower, District Court), and efforts have been introduced to end that system (HJR 12 and SJR 13). Such efforts would require two consecutive legislatures to approve it (majority vote only), plus approval at the ballot box. Thus, a change in the system would take years and a great deal of effort. The Court of Appeals, because it relies on a mere statute (Iowa Code 46.12 and 46.14A) can have its selection system changed in a matter of weeks during a single legislative session.

Enter HB 429 of 2011 which would end merit selection for the court and replace it with gubernatorial nomination and senate confirmation. Like the Kansas proposal, it would not do away with retention elections, however.

The bill is currently pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

Issue 5:9 is out with a focus on Stripping Rule Making Power of Supreme Courts

Issue 5:9 (February 25) is here.

  • Focus Trend: Stripping Rule Making Power of Supreme Courts
  • Iowa moves to strip its supreme court of jurisdiction over same-sex marriage cases
  • A Missouri bill would prohibit its courts from using “non-originalist” or “living, breathing document” interpretations of laws and constitutions
  • Arizona and New Mexico’s Houses move to increase the requirements for magistrates and judges
  • Illinois House members are asking the state’s Auditor General to audit the Judges Retirement System
  • Despite passage by the full Senate, the Mississippi House rejects a judicial salary increase
  • Washington’s Senate rejects a constitutional amendment to allow for a reduction in judicial salaries
  • Merit Selection: Arizona’s Senate advances bills to modify it, Kansas’ House votes to end it for the Court of Appeals, and Maryland’s House rejects efforts to bring it in for the state’s Circuit Courts
  • California’s Assembly considers a bill of rights for trial courts
  • West Virginia might just get an intermediate appellate court after all
  • Idaho and Tennessee bills would make it easier to carry guns in courthouses

Judicial impeachment efforts advance in New Hampshire and New Jersey

The last few weeks have been particularly active in the area of judicial impeachment.

In New Jersey, SR 105 expressed the sense of Senate that in the event the General Assembly does not proceed with impeachment Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto that he should resign as Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. The criticism of Justice Rivera-Soto arises from controversy over a vacancy on the state’s supreme court. It began in May 2010 when, for the first time, the Governor declined to automatically reappoint a supreme court justice back to the court (Justice John E. Wallace Jr.), instead nominating Anne Patterson. The Senate President has declined to have a confirmation hearing on Patterson, resulting in a vacancy on the high court.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner temporarily elevated a trial court judge into the vacancy, an act Justice Rivera-Soto decried in at least two December 2010 opinions as unconstitutional. Justice Rivera-Soto filed a separate opinion in Lula M. Henry v. New Jersey Department of Human Services “abstaining and expressing his view that the Constitution allows the assignment of a Superior Court judge to serve on the Supreme Court only when necessary to constitute a quorum and stating that he will continue to abstain from all decisions of the Court for so long as it remains unconstitutionally constituted.”

Less than a month later on January 12, 2011 in Hopewell Valley Citizens’ Group, Inc. v. Berwind Prop. Group Dev. Co., L.P. Justice Rivera-Soto modified his position: “This process [blanket abstention from all decisions of the Court] has revealed a previously unconsidered, but nevertheless reasoned and measured alternative approach, one that minimizes the jurisprudential uproar a blanket abstention might create but that also maintains the intellectual and constitutional integrity that undergirds my earlier abstaining opinion… I will cast a substantive vote in every case in which the judge of the Superior Court temporarily assigned to serve on the Supreme Court participates except for those in which the temporarily assigned judge casts a vote that affects the outcome of the case.”

The result was SR 105

It is the sense of the Senate that the actions of Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto are prejudicial to the administration of justice and constitute a serious violation of the public trust. It is also the sense of the Senate that the actions of Justice Rivera-Soto may constitute grounds for impeachment for misdemeanor committed during his continuance in office. It is further the sense of the Senate that in the event the Assembly does not consider Articles of Impeachment, Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto must resign his seat as Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey.

The resolution passed on February 17 on a 21-3-16 vote. All the Senate Republicans declined to vote on the resolution.

In New Hampshire, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill to start an impeachment investigation of Marital Master Philip Cross. I detailed HR 7 in a prior blog post here and some of the history and prior attempts to have the Martial Master and other judges/judicial officers removed from office last year. The efforts against Martial Master Cross derive from what the Concord Monitor described as a “witch hunt” lead by “men angry about the outcome of their divorce cases.” According to the New Hampshire Bar Association e-Bulletin, the House Judiciary committee on March 1 voted 10-5 to proceed with the investigation of not only Cross but, according to the text of HR 7, “and/or any justice of the New Hampshire superior court.”

Indiana: Floor amendment to unrelated bill would require courts provide bulk data

Courts have been contending with how to handle bulk data requests for years. Recently, however, efforts in Arizona and other states have sought to bypass the courts and mandate the disbursement by legislative act. The most recent example is in Indiana.

SB 561, as introduced, dealt with corrections and sentencing. A floor amendment, added on February 21 however, requires the division of state court administration to implement a standard program for disseminating bulk court case information for a reasonable fee. Moreover, the bill requires an executive branch agency (the Indiana Office of Technology) annually certify that case management systems operated or funded by the division of state court administration comply with this program.

Finally, while the amendment allows for the charging of “a reasonable fee” it defines “reasonable” as “not [to] exceed the direct cost of operating the export program and delivering data to the recipient plus a prorated fee to recoup the direct costs of developing the export program. In any one (1) year, the aggregate prorated fees charged under this subdivision may not exceed five percent (5%) of the direct costs of developing the export program.”

The bill, as amended, was approved by the full Senate 2/22/11 and is currently in the House awaiting committee assignment.

Cross-posted to Court Technology Bulletin.

New Idaho law allows the Supreme Court to enter into certain contracts for collection services for debts owed to courts

With state courts struggling to stay open, many states are trying to recover costs and debts owed. As noted yesterday, Pennsylvania and other states have allowed for use of private collection agencies. Idaho’s governor last week signed a bill last week that expanded the Idaho judiciary’s ability to recover such debts using private companies.

Since 2000 (Idaho Code ยง 19-4708) state law has authorized clerks of the district court, with the approval of the administrative district judge, to enter into contracts with collection services for the collection of debts owed to the courts in criminal cases, including fines, court costs, fees, and restitution to victims of crimes.

HB 67 enables the Supreme Court to enter into contracts with collection services for the collection of these debts on a statewide basis. Proponents argue this will provide an option for collecting these debts that may be more efficient and effective.

The new law goes into effect July 1.