North Dakota State of the Judiciary

Chief Justice Gerald W. VandeWalle gave his State of the Judiciary to a joint session of the North Dakota legislature earlier today. (Update: No formal resolution appears to have been adopted, instead a motion was made on the floors to convene in joint session for the speech. See the respective House and Senate journals). The text of the speech is here. Here are some highlights:

The North Dakota Constitution requires the Governor to “present information on the condition of the state, together with any recommended legislation, to every regular and special session of the legislative assembly.” N.D. Const. art. V, § 7. By contrast, the Chief Justice appears before the Assembly to present the state of the Judiciary by invitation of the Legislative Assembly. I perhaps should not tell you this, but it may surprise you to learn that delivering a State of the Judiciary message is not a privilege all of my colleagues in other states share. I do not take this privilege for granted and I recognize your already heavy schedule. The invitation to speak to you today is indicative of the spirit of cooperation and respect that our three branches of government in our state share. I thank you for that.

For the Judicial Branch, the State of the Judiciary is an opportunity to pose to the Legislature and the Executive the operations and goals of the Judiciary and the opportunity for you to examine those goals and operations. But that is but a small part of the interbranch relationship. For example, during the year we have the benefit of the wisdom and advice of legislators and executive branch representatives on court committees. The advice and input we receive from representatives of the other branches are invaluable to our policy-making decisions. In turn, several judicial branch officials serve on and advise legislative and executive branch committees; and issues arise within the other two branches of government that require the attention, consideration and cooperation of the Judicial Branch to resolve.

I take a few minutes now to update you on these projects and to touch upon some other areas of concern.

Task Force To Study Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts

Mediation Pilot Program

Parenting Coordinator Program

Problem Solving Courts

Study Resolution on Elder Issues

Supreme Court Facilities

Cost-Sharing for District Court Space

Case Management System

New Feature: State of the Judiciary Addresses

Gavel to Gavel focuses on legislation affecting the courts. Yet in many or most states (depending on year) the chief justice has the opportunity to come into the legislature or addresses legislative leaders directly in the form of State of the Judiciary Addresses. This year, Gavel to Gavel the Blog will be tracking them with links to give some idea of what the chief justices are asking from the legislatures.

The National Center for State Courts has an archive of 2011, 2010, and previous years State of the Judiciary addresses located here.

WA: Another try at public financing supreme court races

In 2010, public financing for supreme court races appeared to be on its way to reality when it ran aground a procedural hurdle. The 2010 version would pay for the financing via a $3 fee on civil case filings, something that Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, as President of the Senate, ruled was a tax. Tax increases in Washington require a two-thirds majority of the legislature (fees require a simple majority, h/t Spokesman Review)

Despite not being able to achieve the two-thirds vote in 2010, the bill is back (SB 5010) and being sponsored by Senator-elect Scott White who, while a member of the 2010 House, sponsored the same public financing bill in that chamber.

MD: Bill would move judges out of Judges’ Retirement System

Readers may recall that in 2010 I did a feature on the massive changes being proposed to retirement systems for judges and court staff. (Click here for a review). This year is starting off on exactly the same footing in Maryland, whose public-employee retirement system was poorly reviewed by the Pew Center on the States and whose plight is near direMaryland’s SB 6 of 2011 provides that, on or after July 1, 2011, an individual not already a member of the Judges’ Retirement System may not join. Instead, all judges previously eligible for the Judges’ Retirement System would be placed into the state’s Optional Retirement Program. The same would apply to those who would otherwise be eligible for most of the state’s pension systems. The bill is currently in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

VA: The Governor, the Legislature, the State Bar, and a bit of retaliation with bar dues?

In 2010, the Virginia state legislature imposed a judicial hiring freeze, declining to fill any newly created vacancies created due to judges retiring, resigning, or otherwise leaving the bench. The council of the state’s mandatory bar (Virginia State Bar), itself an agency of the Virginia Supreme Court, passed a February 2010 resolution urging funding for the vacancies. Nevertheless, the freeze was approved.

In December 2010 the president of the VSB sent a letter to all bar members urging they indicate to their state legislators the impact the freeze was having in Virginia’s courts.

According to the Virginia Lawyer Weekly’s blog, the pressure initially appeared to have succeeded in getting additional funding for judgeships in 2011. However, the Governor’s plan for funding those positions includes use of $5 million in mandatory bar dues. Existing state law directs the bar dues go to a State Bar Fund to pay for the Bar itself and its functions.

The incoming chair of the House Courts of Justice Committee indicated to Virginia Lawyers Weekly he thought this was a direct response by the Governor to VSB’s efforts at advocacy against the hiring freeze plan.

Are state bar dues nationally subject to this sort of general appropriation movement? Virginia’s state appropriations bill (HB 30 of 2010) at pages 25-26 go into detail with respect to state bar funding. Contrast this to South Dakota’s appropriations bill (SB 196 of 2010) which lists State Bar of South Dakota appropriations as “Informational” only.

KY: Paying for more court staff with a fee on the homeless?

With the next legislative year expected to be the worst yet for operating expenses and long term debt, state legislators are scrambling to address increasing homelessness (from foreclosures or otherwise) and ways to pay for courts. One proposal, filed earlier this month in Kentucky as SB 26 would combine the two in an interesting fashion by adding a new statute (KRS 186.531(1)(f)(3)(a)) to read:

The cost of operators’ licenses and permits shall be as follows…fee for an identification card for a person who does not have a fixed, permanent address shall be four dollars ($4), two dollars ($2) of which shall be used to cover the Transportation Cabinet’s cost of equipment and supplies, and two dollars ($2) of which shall be an administrative fee of the circuit clerk for issuing the card that shall be deposited by the Administrative Office of the Courts into a trust and agency account for the circuit clerks and used for the purposes of hiring additional deputy clerks and providing salary adjustment to deputy clerks. (emphasis added)

The prefiled bill has yet to be referred to a committee.