Colorado: House amended bill still allows trial judges to rule on their own disqualification motions, but allows for interlocutory appeal

A plan to require trial judges in civil cases refer a motion to disqualify to another judge for determination has been heavily amended.

HB 1132 as introduced gave the judge who was the subject of such a disqualification motion two options:

  1. grant the motion (and have the chief judge assign a new judge) or
  2. certify the motion to the chief judge of the court for the chief judge to make the determination. If the targeted judge is the chief judge of the court, the chief judge must certify the motion to a chief judge of an “adjoining, like jurisdiction.”

HB 1132 as amended and approved by the House provides that the trial judge will continue to determine, and even reject, such a disqualification motion and must do so within 63 days in a signed, written order.

  1. If granted, the case is reassigned
  2. If denied, a petition for review of the motion to disqualify may be filed in a higher court as an interlocutory appeal (County Court to District Court, District Court to Court of Appeals). Such a petition “must be expedited on the reviewing court’s docket.”

HB 1132 as amended was approved 64-1 in the house on April 20 and is set for a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1.

State legislatures debating use of dogs in courtrooms to calm, assist witnesses; bills out of committee in several states, enacted in Idaho

I mentioned in 2016 that there’s been an increasing number of bills introduced to address the use of animals in court proceedings to calm and assist witnesses. The 2017 session has continued this trend. The bills often contend with two issues: who can have access to such animals (children only? others?) and in what kinds of cases can such an animal be used (criminal? any?)

Alabama HB 393 and SB 273 would permit at the judge’s discretion registered therapy dogs into courtrooms to assist any victim or witness “to reduce unnecessary emotional distress experience by a victim or witness and allow full and factual testimony.” The District Attorney would have to provide instructions on court protocol to the handler. The bills also deal with how to explain the presence of the dog to the jury and authorizes judges to use discretionary court funds to offset the costs for a registered handler for the therapy dog.

SB 273 was approved 7-0 by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee yesterday. HB 393 is in the House Public Safety and Homeland Security but has not yet come up for a hearing.

California AB 411 as amended focuses on 1) child witnesses in cases involving a serious or violation felony and 2) victims entitled under existing law to support persons. These individuals under the bill would be able to have access to a therapy or facility dog and defines these terms, subject to approval by a judge. The bill also deals with how to explain the presence of the dog to the jury.

AB 411 as amended was approved by the Assembly Committee on Public Safety on March 15 and is currently on the Assembly floor (3rd Reading Calendar).

Connecticut HB 6999 as filed would have authorized the use of therapy dogs for those under the age of 18 in criminal cases.

During testimony on the bill by the Connecticut Judicial Branch, it was noted that the state’s supreme court had recently ruled that judges already have the inherent authority to allow for a therapy dog for any witness, in any court proceeding, and that therefore the bill as filed might have the effect of limiting the court’s ability to make such accommodations.

HB 6999 as amended, instead provides the Judicial Branch shall maintain on its website a section providing information regarding the availability of an accommodation, granted at the court’s discretion, for the presence of a dog to provide comfort and support for a child under the age of eighteen during such child’s testimony in the criminal prosecution of an offense involving the alleged assault, abuse or sexual abuse of such child. it also directs that trial judges be trained on this issue.

HB 6999 as amended was approved by the Joint Committee on Children on March 2 and remains pending.

Florida HB 151 amends an existing law that allows the court to use service or therapy animals in proceedings involving a sexual offense to assist a child victim or witness or a sexual offense victim or witness.

As amended, HB 151

  1. Expands the list of proceedings in which support animals may be used to include any proceeding involving child abuse, abandonment, or neglect.
  2. Expands the categories of allowable animals to include a “facility dog”;
  3. Allows a court to set any conditions it finds just and appropriate when taking the testimony of a person who has an intellectual disability, including the use of a therapy animal or facility dog;
  4. Removes the requirement for evaluation and registration of an animal pursuant to national standards, and replaces it with a requirement that an animal be trained, evaluated, and certified according to industry standards; and
  5. Provides definitions for the terms “facility dog” and “therapy animal.”

HB 151 was approved by the full Senate yesterday and is on its way to the governor. The Senate’s similar bill (SB 416) addressed the same issues and was approved on committee, but was ultimately shelved in favor of HB 151.

Idaho SB 1089 as enacted provides when a child is summoned as a witness in any hearing in a noncriminal matter that involves the abuse, neglect or abandonment of the child, including any preliminary hearing, notwithstanding any other statutory provision, a facility dog shall be allowed to remain in the courtroom at the witness stand with the child during the child’s testimony. The bill also defines what a “facility dog” is. SB 1089 was signed into law by the governor in March, with an effective date of July 1, 2017.

Maryland SB 77 amends a 2016 law (SB 1106) that created a pilot program for the use of both facility and therapy dogs with respect to child witnesses in criminal cases and limited the program to two counties (Anne Arundel and Harford). SB 77 would delete the word “criminal”, allowing for the use of such dogs in any case.

SB 77 was approved by the House on April 4 and is in back in the Senate pending transmission to the Governor.

Illinois: House committee approves bill to require posting in public areas of courthouses how to file disciplinary complaints against trial judges

A bill in the Illinois House discussed here that would have required trial judges make an announcement on a daily basis in their court about the existence of the state’s judicial disciplinary body has been heavily amended.

HB 3054 as filed contained 3 elements

  1. All Circuit Judges must announce that a person can file a complaint against him or her with the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board prior to calling the first case of the day.
  2. The Clerk of the Circuit Court must make a Judicial Inquiry Board complaint form with instructions available.
  3. The Clerk must also post within each courtroom a notice that a person may file a complaint against the judge and that instructions for filing a complaint may be obtained from the clerk.

HB 3054 as amended removes Item 1 entirely and heavily modifies Items 2 and 3. The new bill provides

  1. Circuit Court Clerks are to post in the common areas of the courthouse a notice a person may file a complaint against the judge that includes contact information for the Judicial Inquiry Board.
  2. The Judicial Inquiry Board shall develop a uniform statewide notice and provide the format of the notice to each clerk.

The posting requirement is similar to a 2008 Tennessee bill (HB 3906 / SB 4053) although that version would have placed the notice just outside the courtroom. The Tennessee plan was introduced but never taken up in either chamber.

This amended bill was approved by the House Judiciary – Civil Committee on a 11-0 vote and is currently pending on the House floor.

Florida: bill approved in committee warns of civil fines and removal from office of judges by the Governor 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 in a Florida Senate Committee.

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 by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on March 23 and advanced by the House Rules Committee on March 28.

Texas: Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act of 2017 clears Senate committee 7-0

A bill that would implement portions of the Texas Judicial Council review of security in the state has cleared the Senate. SB 42, originally discussed here, was passed by the Senate State Affairs committee today. The bill, as committee substituted, 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.

North Carolina: Bill dealing with enhanced penalties for threats and assaults against judges, clerks, and court staff introduced

A North Carolina bill (HB 492) to increase penalties for attacks and threats on judges, clerks, and other court staff was introduced in the House earlier this week.

G.S. § 14?16.6 makes it a Class I felony to assault a “court officer” which includes judges/justices, magistrates, clerks of superior court, acting clerks, assistant or deputy clerks, and others. If a deadly weapon is used or serious bodily injury occurs, this is increased to a Class F felony. Under HB 492 this would increase to a Class H or Class E felony, respectively.

G.S. § 14?16.7 makes it a Class I felony to threaten to inflict serious bodily injury upon or to kill a “court officer”. Under HB 492 this would increase to a Class H felony.

Finally, for other court employees, HB 492 makes “simple assault” on any officer or employee of state or local government a Class I felony. State law (G.S. § 14?33) otherwise makes “simple assault” a Class 2 misdemeanor.

HB 492 has been filed in the House State and Local Government I Committee.

West Virginia: bill would specify governor’s power to furloughs employees, including court employees & judges

In February after the state’s credit was downgraded, West Virginia’s Governor asked the legislature for a bill to allow him to furlough employees. An amended version of the Senate bill (SB 446) was approved by the full Senate earlier today.

The bill as introduced, and its House counterpart (HB 2879), was unclear about the power of the governor to furlough judicial employees. (“The furlough must be inclusive of all employees within a designated department, agency, division, office, or program, regardless of the source of funds, place of work, or classification.”)

Under the bill as committee amended and approved by the Senate, the process for judicial furloughs would be out of the governor’s control. Specifically:

  1. The governor is expressly prohibited from ordering a furlough of constitutional officers, employees of constitutional officers, or members or employees of the judicial branch.
  2. When the Governor declares a fiscal emergency pursuant to SB 446, the Supreme Court of Appeals shall have authority to furlough employees and personnel of the judiciary under the Supreme Court of Appeals, including employees and personnel of the circuit courts, family courts and magistrate courts.
  3. Furloughs shall not be employed so as to completely close a court or court office.
  4. Nothing in the section of SB 446 discussing furloughs of judicial branch employees “shall be construed as granting authority for the furlough of elected judicial officers, nor shall it be construed as restricting or otherwise limiting the plenary authority of the Supreme Court of Appeals or the lower courts.”

SB 446 as amended was approved by the Senate 23-11 and is now on its way to the House.