Texas: Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act of 2017 enacted

A bill that would implement portions of the Texas Judicial Council review of security in the state has cleared the legislature and already been signed by the governor.

SB 42, originally discussed here, is named after Travis County District Judge Julie Kocurek who was the victim of an attempted assassination in 2015.

SB 42 makes numerous changes to laws related to court security, including

Certified Court Security Officers Requirement

  • Prohibits a person from serving as a court security officer unless the person holds a court security certification issued by a training program approved by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE).
  • Requires TCOLE create model court security curriculum in consultation with the Office of Court Administration (OCA).
  • Grants person providing court security 1 year to obtain certification from date officer beings providing court security; currently serving officers have until September 1, 2019.
  • Requires the sheriff, constable, law enforcement agency, or other entity that provides security for a court to verify that each court security officer holds the required certification.

Court Security Committees (CSCs)

  • Requires the presiding judge, municipal judge, or local administrative judge (as applicable) of every court create a CSC and sets their composition.
  • Requires the CSCs establish the policies and procedures necessary to provide adequate security to the court(s).
  • Authorizes a CSC to recommend to county commissioners the uses of resources and expenditures of money for courthouse security, but prohibits a CSC from directing the assignment of those resources or the expenditure of those funds.

Training Fund

  • Creates a $5 fee on filings to go toward the existing Judicial and Court Personnel Training Fund.
  • Requires that the Court of Criminal Appeals (the state’s court of last resort in criminal cases) grant legal funds to statewide professional associations and other entities that provide training to individuals responsible for providing court security.
  • Requires the legislature appropriate from the Judicial and Court Personnel Training Fund money to the Court of Criminal Appeals to provide for, among certain programs, court security training programs for individuals responsible for providing court security.

Court Incident Reporting

  • Provides the sheriff or other law enforcement agency or entity that provides security for a court shall provide to the Office of Court Administration a written report regarding any court/courthouse security incident. A 2007 law currently places that responsibility on the local administrative judges.

Office of Court Administration,  Judicial Security Division

  • Requires OCA establish a judicial security division to provide guidance to state court personnel on improving security for each court.
  • Requires the Director of OCA to notify county registrars, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC), and any other state agency OCA determines should be notified of the judges, judges’ spouses, and related family members whose personal information must be kept from public records, as provided under Government Code 552.117.

Public Release/Availability of Personal Information on Judges

  • Defines “state judge” for purposes of non-release of personal information about “state judges”.
  • Include a current or former federal judge or state judge or a spouse of a current or former federal judge or state judge or a current or former district attorney, criminal district attorney, or county attorney whose jurisdiction includes any criminal law or child protective services matter, as persons whose information is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 (Availability of Public Information) if it is information that relates to certain personal information.
  • Allow judges to remove for themselves and their spouses their home addresses and other personal information from public records required to file for office, including information held by
    • the Texas Ethics Commission
    • local county registrars (related to voter registration)
    • local county clerks
    • tax appraisal records
    • driver’s licenses, and in lieu of personal address use courthouse address

Protection For Judges

  • Authorizes any commissioned peace officer, including a commissioned officer of the Department of Public Safety, to provide personal security to a state judge at any location, regardless of the location of the law enforcement agency or department that employs or commissions the peace officer.

Oklahoma: House adopts resolution directing Oklahoma Supreme Court to not “interfere” with state’s abortion laws

I previously mentioned Oklahoma HR 1004 that addresses abortion laws in the state and, in effect, directed the state’s judiciary to stay out of the subject. That resolution has now passed the House.

HR 1004 as adopted by voice vote starts by rejecting the U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with abortion, citing specifically Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. It then calls on state public officials, including judges and justices specifically, to “exercise their authority as appropriate in their respective jurisdictions to stop the murder of innocent unborn children by abortion.”

The next paragraph, however, is specifically directed at state judges.

THAT Oklahoma judges and specifically justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court are directed not to interfere with this Legislature’ s right to clarify Oklahoma criminal law regarding abortion per Section 36 of Article V of the Oklahoma Constitution.

That particular section of the state’s constitution deals with the legislature’s power.

The authority of the Legislature shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation, and any specific grant of authority in this Constitution, upon any subject whatsoever, shall not work a restriction, limitation, or exclusion of such authority upon the same or any other subject or subjects whatsoever.

The resolution appears to target two decisions by the Oklahoma Supreme Court from late 2016:

  • In October 2016, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a 2015 law (SB 642 of 2015) that dealt with restrictions on abortions (parental consent for minors, tissue preservation, inspection of clinics, and legal liability of abortion providers). That decision was 9-0.
  • In December 2016 the court again ruled 9-0 that a law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges (SB 1848 of 2014) was also unconstitutional.

Alaska: bill allows legislature to declare judicial decisions impeachable “malfeasance”, removes judicial review; similar to 2016 Kansas Senate effort

A plan to allow for the impeachment of Alaska’s judges for their decisions has been filed in that state’s House in a move almost identical to one put forth in the Kansas Senate last year.

The Alaska Constitution provides that “all civil officers” are subject to impeachment, but fails to specify the reasons for impeachment such as high crimes, misdemeanors, malfeasance, etc.

All civil officers of the State are subject to impeachment by the legislature. Impeachment shall originate in the senate and must be approved by a two-thirds vote of its members. The motion for impeachment shall list fully the basis for the proceeding. Trial on impeachment shall be conducted by the house of representatives.

Existing statutes define the reasons for impeachment of judges as “malfeasance or misfeasance in the performance of official duties.” (A.S. 22.05.120 for the Supreme Court; A.S. 22.07.075 for the Court of Appeals; A.S. 22.10.170 for the Superior Court).

HB 251 would amend the definition of “malfeasance” to include “exercising legislative power.” Moreover, HB 251 would prohibit any judicial review of the state legislature’s actions in this area (“the legislature’s judgment under this section is not subject to judicial review.”)

That language is similar to Kansas’ SB 439 of 2016 as amended, that provided Kansas judges, or more specifically those chosen via the state’s merit/commission system, would be subject to impeachment for “attempting to usurp the power of the legislative…branch of government.” That bill was approved 21-19 but never taken up in the House.

HB 251 has been filed in the House Community & Regional Affairs Committee.

Pennsylvania: bill making it a misdemeanor to audio/video record in or near a courtroom without judge’s permission clears committee unanimously

A bill that would make it a crime to make an audio or video recording in or around Pennsylvania courtrooms without a judge’s permission has cleared the House Judiciary Committee on a 26-1 vote.

Under HB 149

A person commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if the person in any manner and for any purpose uses or operates a device to capture, record, transmit or broadcast a photograph, video, motion picture or audio of a proceeding or person within a hearing room, courtroom or the environs of a hearing room or courtroom without the approval of the court or presiding judicial officer or except as provided by rules of court…”environs” means the area immediately surrounding any entrance or exit.

The lead proponent notes that existing witness intimidation laws don’t cover such courtroom or near-courtroom recordings.

The 2015/2016 version of the bill (HB 1682) pass the House unanimously with a 200-0 vote, but the Senate never took it up.

HB 149 has been sent to the full House.

New Hampshire: Senate committee rejects specific language for judges to use for jury nullification; House had approved 170-160

Earlier this week the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-0 to reject HB 133 which would require judges in criminal cases give a specific jury instruction (discussed here). The House had previously approved the bill on a 170-160 vote.

If you have a reasonable doubt as to whether the state has proved any one or more of the elements of the crime charged, you must find the defendant not guilty.  However if you find that the state has proved all the elements of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant guilty.  Even if you find that the state has proved all of the elements of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find that based upon the facts of this case a guilty verdict will yield an unjust result, and you may find the defendant not guilty.

The bill is just the latest in a 20-year effort by the state’s legislature to force judges to give jury nullification instructions and do to so with specific verbiage. A similar bill without specifying what words were to be used was enacted in 2012 only to have the state’s supreme court rule that the law did not require a specific jury nullification instruction.

Alabama: 2nd hearing today on plan to require legislature approve of judicial disciplinary proceeding that would remove a judge from office

In September of 2016 Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended without pay for the remainder of his term by the state’s judicial disciplinary commission (Court of the Judiciary) on a complaint from the state judicial investigatory arm (the Judicial Inquiry Commission). Now members of the Alabama legislature want to disband both or strip them of power (news reports here and here).

SB 8 of 2017 is a constitutional amendment that would require 2/3rds legislative approval of Supreme Court decisions to remove judges from office. The move comes after the suspension from office of Chief Justice Roy Moore. During the hearing on the bill the lead proponent complained that in the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission “We have popularly elected judges, and we have a small, unelected body that takes them out.” Opponents expressed concern over separation of powers issues.

SB 8 also ends the practice where a judge or justice is suspended from office upon filing of a complaint by the Judicial Inquiry Commission.

Florida: Senate approves bill to levy civil fines and remove from office judges who try to stop the carrying of guns into courthouses

A bill that would allow the state’s Governor to remove judges who try and stop courthouse carry has been approved by the Florida Senate.

SB 616 generally keeps the state’s current prohibition on courthouse carry, but makes three key changes.

First, it provides when a gun license holder approaches security or management personnel upon arrival at a courthouse, the license holder may temporarily surrender their weapon or firearm to the security or management personnel, who shall store the weapon or firearm in a locker, safe, or other secure location and return the weapon or firearm to the licensee when he or she is exiting the courthouse.

As the legislative analysis for the bill notes, not all courthouses have such security checkpoints (footnote 16).

Second, the bill defines “courthouse”

the term “courthouse” means a building in which trials and hearings are conducted on a regular basis. If a building is used primarily for purposes other than the conduct of hearings and trials and housing judicial chambers, the term includes only that portion of the building that is primarily used for hearings and trials and judicial chambers.

Finally, the bill warns that any judge who issues an administrative order or rule to alter this definition faces fines and removal from office by the Governor.

A local ordinance, administrative rule, administrative order, or regulation that is in conflict with the definition of the term “courthouse” in this subsection or the rights set forth under subparagraph (12)(a)4 is preempted to the Legislature under s. 790.33. The person, justice, judge, county, agency, municipality, district, or other entity that enacts or causes to be enforced a local ordinance, administrative rule, administrative order, or regulation that is preempted is subject to the penalties set forth in s. 790.33, including, but not limited to, civil fines and removal from office by the Governor.

SB 616 was approved 19-15 with 5 not voting by the full Senate on April 28 and is now on the House Special Order calendar.