North Carolina: House bill overhauls state’s magistrate judge system

A bill filed in the North Carolina House earlier this week would overhaul the way the state’s magistrate judges operate. HB 126 as filed

  1. Directs the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop a code of conduct for all magistrates by July 1, 2018.
  2. Gives chief district court judges the authority to discipline magistrates including a letter of caution, a written reprimand, or up to a 10-day suspension without pay.
  3. Allows magistrates to be assigned to temporary duty in another county; current law only allows for such a move “during an emergency.”
  4. Requires chief district court judges of each county to appoint a chief magistrate.

HB 126 has been filed in the House Judiciary III Committee.


Oklahoma: plan to expand who can carry concealed handguns into courthouses passes committee, bill similar to one enacted in Arkansas in 2015

A bill to allow Oklahoma elected officials to carry firearms into the courthouses of the county they serve in cleared the House Public Safety Committee last week.

HB 1104 as amended provides an elected official with a handgun license may carry a concealed handgun when acting in the performance of their duties within the courthouses of the county in which he or she was elected.

A committee amendment was added to make clear that this did not permit courtroom carry (“The provisions of this paragraph shall not allow the elected county official to carry the handgun into a courtroom.”)

The Oklahoma bill is similar to one enacted in Arkansas in 2015 (SB 159 discussed here and here) although the Arkansas version was broader, allowing not only county elected officials but county employees to courthouse-carry as well. The Arkansas law appears not to have impacted the existing statutes that banned courtroom carry.

HB 1104 is now on the House floor.


Connecticut: bill increases penalties for threatening judges, magistrates, and referees; 2016 version approved in committee

A bill to increase penalties for threatening judges and judicial officials first introduced in 2016 has been refiled for the 2017 and is set for a hearing next week

HB 5742 of 2017 amends the state’s existing statute against threats which provides, generally, threatening in the first degree is a class D felony and threatening in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.

Under HB 5742 this would be elevated each one level to a class C felony or class D felony, respectively where the threat is made against “a family support magistrate, a family support referee, judge trial referee or a judge of any court, either elected or appointed, and the threat is related to the magistrate’s, referee’s or judge’s official duties.”

HB 5742 appears to be similar if not identical to HB 5495 of 2016 as amended/committee substituted. That version was approved by the Joint Committee on Judiciary 40-1 but failed to advance.

Florida: bills targeting appellate courts clear House Judiciary Committee, heading to full House for vote

Two bills targeting Florida’s appellate courts have cleared the House Judiciary Committee and are now heading for a vote of the full House.

HJR 1, which was approved 11-8 and discussed here, limits appellate judges (Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal) to 12 consecutive years in office and prohibits them from being reappointed for 1 year after leaving office. Proponents complained the state’s retention election system was “broken” because no appellate judge had ever lost a race and that therefore term limits were required.

As previously noted, no state puts term limits on its appellate judges and only New Mexico does so in one limited-instance at the trial level (part-time Probate Court judges).

HB 301 approved 12-6 and discussed here requires the Florida Supreme Court to provide a “detailed explanation” to the governor and legislature when a case goes longer than 180 days from oral argument to decision. A similar law was enacted in Kansas in 2014 as a section 4 of HB 2446. That law set time limits of 120 days (trial courts) or 180 days (appellate court) for decisions. Section 4 of HB 2446 was struck down as an unconstitutional infringement on the separation of powers a year later (State v. Buser).


Alabama: latest in efforts to curtail/remove power of Court of the Judiciary to handle judicial disciplinary matters

Last fall Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended from office by the state’s judicial disciplinary commission (Court of the Judiciary) on a complaint from the state judicial investigatory arm (the Judicial Inquiry Commission). Members of the legislature called it an outrageous abuse of process” and the executive committee of the Alabama GOP agreed to a plan to have all 9 members of the Judicial Inquiry Commission elected. 

The latest effort in this arena was filed earlier this week as HB 166. Under it the existing disciplinary process would remain the same for trial judges:

  1. The Judicial Inquiry Commission would investigate and file a complaint against a judge with the Court of the Judiciary and then
  2. Prosecute the complaint before the Court of the Judiciary.

For appellate courts (Supreme, Court of Civil Appeals, Court of Criminal Appeals) the role of the Court of the Judiciary is entirely eliminated.

  1. The Judicial Inquiry Commission would file any complaint with the House Judiciary Committee
  2. The committee would then decide whether to a) keep the complaint for a possible impeachment proceeding or b) return it back to be taken up as a disciplinary matter.
  3. If the committee decided to refer it back the Court of the Judiciary would not hear the case. Instead a complaint against a member of the Supreme Court or Court of Civil Appeals would be heard by the Court of Criminal Appeals, while a complaint against a member of the Court of Criminal Appeals would be heard by the Court of Civil Appeals.

HB 116 has been filed in the House Judiciary Committee.


Arkansas: House approves 89-0 bill to allow for judges who take bribes to be personally sued including punitive damages; would remove judicial immunity in such instances

A bill first discussed here that would allow for those harmed by judges who take bribes to seize the judge’s personal assets has cleared the Arkansas House unanimously on an 89-0 vote

HB 1007 as amended provides that where a judge was either found or pleaded guilty to bribery in a case a party who had an adverse ruling against them as a result of the bribe could sue to recover not only compensatory damages but punitive as well from the judge personally. Judicial immunity, which generally provides a judge’s personal assets cannot be taken for an official judicial act, would be removed.

As introduced, HB 1007 would also have included instances where the judge was fined, removed, or otherwise disciplined by the Supreme Court or the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for bribery.

The bill appears to be a response to a case in 2015 involving Circuit Court Judge Michael Maggio. The former judge pleaded guilty in January 2015 to a federal charge that he accepted a bribe in exchange for reducing a negligence jury verdict. The plaintiffs in the negligence case then sued Maggio, but the case against the former judge was dismissed in March 2015 due to judicial immunity.

HB 1007 has been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

New Hampshire: House committee rejects 13-0 plan to expand judicial performance evaluation program to include all court personnel

Since the 1990s (by rule) and 2000 (by law) New Hampshire has provided for a judicial performance evolution program (R.S.A. 490:32 and Supreme Court Rule 56) that produces annual reports on how the state’s judges fare in areas such as Temperament, Legal Knowledge, and Attentiveness. This year, an effort made in the House to expand that program to cover all court personnel has been rejected.

HB 311 would have amended R.S.A. 490:32 to read in operative part (new language in bold)

The chief justice and a majority of the supreme court, in consultation with the administrative judges of the superior and circuit courts and other nonjudicial branch officers as established by court rule, shall design and implement by court rule, a program for performance evaluation of judges and court personnelThe program for performance evaluation shall ensure that each judge and court employee is evaluated a minimum of once every 3 years.

That proposal was rejected by the House Judiciary Committee as Inexpedient to Legislate on February 15 by a 13-0 vote.