I mentioned last spring the Georgia Senate had approved creation of a Unified Courts Technology Study Committee (SR 986) made up of 5 Senators (Judiciary Committee chair + 4) and 2 individuals chosen by the Chief Justice to report back by December 1, 2014 on “the cost and feasibility of a significant investment in state and local information technology systems, the cost of training state and local employees on new systems and the feasibility of using add-on fees to fund system upgrades.” The system upgrades “should be based on mandatory state-wide standards for criminal, civil, and domestic relations data which allow all justice system agencies to share data efficiently…”
The Study Committee held a hearing earlier today that examined several areas. Per its agenda these included issues of governance, funding, Justice Data Exchange, and related concepts.
The North Dakota Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee meets yesterday (July 1). On the agenda were several items, including the question of court fees. During the 2013 the legislature considered SB 2078 which would have consolidated seven different fees imposed by courts in criminal cases into a single fee, the amount of which would vary based upon the grade of the offense. Concerns were voiced, however, over the consolidation of the check fee and victim witness fee into this new “one fee” system; such fees presently went to or remained with the locality.
Ultimately SB 2078 was turned into a request that these subjects be studied for the 2015 session.
During the 2013-14 interim, the legislative management shall consider studying the assessment of fees by courts, the feasibility and desirability of combining various court fees, and whether courts should be mandated to impose fees established by statute. The legislative management shall report its findings and recommendations, together with any legislation required to implement the recommendations, to the sixty – fourth legislative assembly
One of the key elements to come out of the prior hearings in January 2014 and May 2014 was the victim witness fees that fund local victim witness program coordinators or can be used to fund local domestic violence programs. Two draft bills on the subject were discussed but not yet online.
A specially appointed “Ad Hoc Committee on Judicial Accountability” of the Tennessee Senate is scheduled to meet next Tuesday, June 24. While the notice fails to indicate the purpose of the meeting, it appears to be a legislative effort to investigate the state’s chief justice and/or the state’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.
1) Chief Justice complaint: Senate Government Operations Chair and Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee Sen. Mike Bell filed an ethics complaint against Chief Justice Gary Wade. Per the Associated Press the complaint alleged the chief justice:
broke state rules last year by contacting members of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission on behalf of three appeals court judges under review. Wade has said his actions were proper, and the Board of Judicial Conduct, which investigates potential ethics violations, did not take up Bell’s grievance.
Bell had previously announced he intended on holding hearings in the month of June on the complaint and the dismissal by the Board of Judicial Conduct.
2) Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission: a state trial judge earlier this year ruled the state’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission makeup was illegal because it did not adhere to state diversity laws; the 9 member commission had only 2 female members. However no injunction was issued and the Commission continued to meet while the matter was/is on appeal. The House/Senate Government Operations Committee’s Judiciary and Government subcommittee was directed to hold an interim session meeting to investigate the commission and it appears the Senate “Ad Hoc Committee on Judicial Accountability” may do so at its June 24 meeting.
The Ad Hoc Committee’s membership appears to be focused on members from the Senate Government Operations Committee, with two from the Senate Judiciary added
From Government Operations
Nevada is one of 4 states that has no regularly scheduled election-year legislative sessions (Montana, North Dakota, and Texas as the others). During the interim the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice has met so far four times, most recently on May 1, to discuss a series of judiciary-related topics, including language access in the courts.
The interim study is required by AB 365 of 2013. The bill as enacted requires the study but also required the state’s Court Administrator to adopt regulations which, subject to the availability of funding, establish criteria and procedures for the appointment of alternate court interpreters under certain circumstances. AB 365 also required a certified court interpreter or an alternate court interpreter to be provided in various judicial proceedings for a person with a language barrier and defined “person with a language barrier” to mean a person who speaks a language other than English and who cannot readily understand or communicate in the English language.
That subcommittee was set up on November 6, 2013 and presentations made on the subject in January 2014 with Justice Michael Douglas and Ben Graham from the Nevada AOC (see page 17 for testimony).
The Washington State House Judiciary Committee met July 29 at Lakewood City Hall for a work session on the issue of involuntary mental health treatment and civil commitment. Topics on the agenda included:
- Procedures for evaluating persons for civil commitment who have had misdemeanor charges dismissed due to incompetency to stand trial.
- Involuntary outpatient mental health treatment.
Wyoming’s Joint Judiciary Interim Committee met July 18 & 19. On the committee’s agenda was:
The 24/7 Sobriety Program, requiring that participants facing DUI charges must submit to regular, frequent testing for drug and alcohol use
Laws related to aggravated assault/severe injury, domestic assault & battery, and unlawful entry into an occupied structure
Post-conviction relief based on DNA and for non-DNA reasons
Court reporters, including testimony from the state’s Chief Justice
Jury pool selection, also including testimony from the state’s Chief Justice
Criminal statutes and penalties
Indiana’s Commission on Courts, made up of legislators, judges and others, met July 18 to discuss a variety of court topics. Chief among them was a lengthy discussion on the use by courts of surety bonds and pretrial release programs. The framework for the debate was SR 69, adopted by the Senate in April 2013, directing a study of the issue of bond/pretrial programs. The other piece of legislation discussed was SB 425 of 2013, a proposal to revise bail in the state.
Testimony was taken from several bail/surety agents, a judge representing the Indiana Judges Association, a sheriff representing the Indiana Sheriffs Association, and a member of the Lake County Council.
The Commission adjourned with no specific date for the next meeting established.
Under a directive from the Montana legislature (SJR 22 of 2013) the Law and Justice Interim Committee met on July 10 to examine a range of issues, including and in particular family law/domestic relations matters.
SJR 22 specifically required the interim committee to look at three areas:
- evaluate the cost and effectiveness of Montana’s current court processes in addressing domestic relations matters;
- research family law models and approaches, legislative and otherwise, being used in other states; and
- identify measures that will help improve the administration of justice and promote the nonadversarial resolution of family law disputes.
A draft study plan was reviewed that would involve:
Compile background information: June 2013 – January 2014
- panel presentations from stakeholders such as district court judges, other judicial officials and staff, attorneys, and members of work groups concentrating on family law concerns. Panels could cover the existing system and problems, evaluation of the costs of the current system, and Montanans’ experiences in the current system.
- staff papers summarizing existing laws pertaining to domestic relations (marriage, divorce, custody, spousal support , etc.) and, as possible, the costs of the existing system;
- presentations/panels/staff material on other processes that are used in other jurisdictions
Identify issues: January 2014 – April 2014
Review and decide on legislative options: April 2014 – August 2014
I’ve mentioned in the last several months the efforts in Oklahoma to shift the way the state selects its appellate judges, as well as threats to term limit them. The interest in these areas peaked when just days after the state supreme court struck down a statute, the House speaker directed a study on judicial term limits.
Now comes word (h/t to Gavel Grab for the pointer) that a state senator is warning an upcoming special session will focus on “attacking the judiciary“, including at least some of the proposals that advanced in the Senate during the regular session but died in the House.
A copy of the state senator’s letter provided to KGOU Radio to judges in the state is below.
Meanwhile, the governor’s office is denying any plans to attack the judicial branch. A spokesperson for Gov. Mary Fallin stated “The governor is considering calling a special session. However, the topic the special session would address is lawsuit reform. She is not planning to consider judicial reform or any other issue.” That lawsuit reform refers to the law that the state supreme court had struck down.
Indiana’s Commission on Courts, made up of legislators, judges and others, met last Friday (10/26) to adopt its recommendations to the 2013 legislature. On the agenda were requests for additional judges and magistrates. A review of Administrative Law Judges in the state was delayed until the 2013 interim.