There have been numerous efforts to try and avoid the excesses of judicial elections, but one Florida House member has proposed a unique solution. In 2010, Broward County faced an “unwieldy primary election for judges [with] 42 candidates including 15 incumbents in 20 races”. (h/t Florida Bar News) This prompted state Sen. Jeremy Ring to introduce SB 140, a constitutional amendment that increases the number of years a person must be a member of the Florida bar before being eligible for a trial court judgeship. Circuit and county court judges would need to have 10 years as an attorney (currently 5 years for circuit, and bar admission only for county), the same qualifications needed as with the state’s appellate courts. An identical bill (HB 47) was also introduced in the House.
The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in not only the threats to impeach state court judges because of their decisions, but the actual drafting of legislation to that effect. Legislatures are not even in session, yet two additional efforts are already underway in Iowa and Oklahoma.
This special edition of Gavel to Gavel looks back at similar efforts to impeach or remove judges based solely on their decisions over the last several legislative cycles.
Last month, three of Iowa’s seven justices were unseated in their retention elections, in large part due to the court’s unanimous ruling that the state’s constitution required the legalization of same-sex marriage. Opponents of the three warned and urged the remaining four justices to resign from the bench. At least 3 members of the Iowa House, however, have no inclination to wait and see if the four will in fact step down and have prepared articles of impeachment. (h/t Des Moines Register).
The state’s constitution provides justices and others “shall be liable to impeachment for any misdemeanor or malfeasance in office” with a simple majority required for impeachment. Conviction in the Senate, however, would require a two-thirds vote.
Iowa is but the latest of states to threaten the impeachment of judges or justices based solely on their decisions. Details can be found in this post as well as a Gavel to Gavel Focus piece from 2007 (located here).
With budget shortfalls anticipated well into the next two years, many states are considering making more use of quasi-judicial officials.
Since the adoption of its original constitution in 1889, Wyoming’s district court commissioners have been limited in the services they may perform: they may take depositions and perform other tasks assigned by law, but they cannot perform “chamber business” unless either a) the district judge is out of the county or b) it is improper for the the district judge to act in a given case. However, in Summer 2010 in testimony before the state’ legislature’s Joint Interim Judiciary Committee, then-Chief Justice Barton Voigt “observed that the commissioners are acting even when a district court judge is present in violation of the constitution and statute and he believes that that a constitutional change is needed.”
HJR 1 of 2011 would remove those prohibitions (and delete the word “chamber” from “chamber business”). If adopted, a district court commissioner could perform duties assigned by a district court judge, even if the judge is not absent from the jurisdiction of the court or recused/disqualified, subject to any restrictions the legislature may impose by law upon the authority of district court commissioners. The bill is currently pending in the House but is not yet assigned to a committee.
Earlier in 2010, Gavel to Gavel looked at efforts by state legislatures to mandate more electronic filing of court documents. Much of the focus was on civil cases, however Florida’s Senate is considering a plan to press for criminal case e-filing. SB 170 of 2011 would require prosecutors and public defenders to e-file documents with the clerk of court and report back on March 1, 2012 on the implementation of the program to the legislature.
Cross-posted at Court Technology Bulletin blog
Issue 4:23 (December 10) is here.
Perhaps in anticipation of an expected 2012 Supreme Court election in the state, or as a reaction to judicial elections in other states, the Kentucky legislature will be considering a bill (HB 21) this year to create a public financing system for all judges in the state, paid for in part by a $25 annual assessment on all members of the Kentucky Bar Association. If adopted, Kentucky’s public financing system for judicial races might be the most expansive in the nation. Similar programs in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and New Mexico are limited to appellate courts only. A fourth program (West Virginia) adopted in 2010 is limited to only the state’s 2012 Supreme Court race.