Most states allow their chief justices to offer State of the Judiciary addresses to the legislature or legislative and executive branch leaders. (A collection of the 2010 State of the Judiciary speeches and archive of past ones is available here.)
Georgia did so via a formal resolution (HR 1682) inviting Chief Justice Carol Hunstein to “address a joint session” on March 16. The Chief Justice did so and in her address noted, “The separation of powers is the very bedrock of our nation’s democracy” and, citing Judge Learned Hand, that “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.”
The reference to “democracy” did not sit well with several members of the House, at least 6 of whom introduced a resolution (HR 1770) on March 26 to “inform Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein that the State of Georgia is a republic and not a democracy.”
However, in his January State of the State address, Governor Sonny Perdue made three separate references to the U.S. and/or Georgia as being a “democracy”.
No word on any similar resolution having been introduced for his references.
While generally courts are permitted to entertain only cases and controversies, several states allow their Supreme Court to issue advisory opinions. Colorado’s Constitution gives its Supreme Court the power to weigh in “upon important questions upon solemn occasions when required by the governor, the senate, or the house of representatives”.
Colorado’s Governor made such a request on February 9 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. The request paid specific attention to a provision in Colorado’s constitution that states “it shall be unlawful for a corporation or labor organization to provide funding for an electioneering communication; except that any political committee or small donor committee established by such corporation or labor organization may provide funding for an electioneering communication.”
Although the governor alone could have asked for a Supreme Court advisory opinion, both chambers of the state’s legislature added their request through HJR 1011 on February 10. The joint resolution found the questions posed by the governor of “extreme importance and public interest [and] that it is essential that an immediate determination be secured…”
Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judge Willis W. Berry, Jr. has served in that office in 1996 and had, prior too taking office, purchased over a dozen properties in Philadelphia. The properties were in poor condition and the judge cited over 70 times. According to the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline, Judge Berry made use of his office and judicial secretary for a decade to “assist him in the day-to-day operations concerning his properties.” The Court of Judicial Discipline suspended him for four months without pay and he was encouraged to resign by the Philadelphia Bar. Instead, Berry returned to work on January 4.
HR 603 appoints a sub-committee of the House Judiciary Committee to investigate Judge Berry’s actions and determine whether they rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
Article XVII, Section 8 of the South Carolina constitution states “It shall be unlawful for any person holding an office of honor, trust, or profit to engage in gambling or betting on games of chance; and any such officer, upon conviction thereof, shall become thereby disqualified from the further exercise of the functions of his office, and the office of said person shall become vacant, as in the case of resignation or death.”
HB 3943 would lift the prohibition on “gambling or betting” for lotteries conducted by the state for most officer holders, including trial court judges, but specifically not including “judges sitting on the State Supreme Court or the South Carolina Court of Appeals.”
The third New Hampshire bill of address (HA 3) this year focuses on Marital Master Philip Cross. While details are not provided as to specific case number or names in the bill of address, the charges appear to duplicate most of those found in the bill of address Judge Lucinda Sadler but do not involve the “Amanda” case for which Sadler and Marital Master Michael Garner face the prospect of being removed from their respective offices.
It remains to be seen among all three of these bills of address if a committee will be convened to examine the matter. According to the bill status reports from the NH legislature’s website, all three must be voted out of committee and onto the floor by February 18.
Yesterday’s post on the effort to legislatively remove form office a New Hampshire marital master was only half the story. To recap, marital master Michael garner recommend a girl be removed at the father’s request from his ex-wife’s homeschooling practices for the girl and put into public school. It was Judge Lucinda Sadler that signed off on that recommendation. For her role in the homeschooling order, Judge Sadler is the target of HA 2 of 2010 seeking her removal via a bill of address to the Governor. Sadler is also cited for her role in signing off on the orders of another marital master in a many as 6 child support and custody cases in addition to the one previously noted.
Three separate efforts to remove New Hampshire judges and judicial officers via bills of address are currently pending in that state. A bill of address requires only a simple majority of both the House and Senate and need not specify any “bribery, corruption, malpractice or maladministration, in office” as in the case of an impeachment. “The governor with consent of the council may remove any commissioned officer for reasonable cause upon the address of both houses of the legislature,..”
The first such effort (HA 1) is against marital master Michael Garner. Garner, according to the bill of address, “recommended to the presiding justice an order removing a child from an educational setting on the basis of religious prejudice.” The case surrounds a divorce case and a child, identified only as “Amanda,” who was being home schooled by her mother, while her father wanted the child placed in public school. According to media reports, Garner evaluated the home schooling situation. On July 13, 2009, he issued his recommendation, stating “The Court is extremely reluctant to impose on parents a decision about a child’s education” but ultimately deciding, based on the testimony of the parents and a Guardian Ad Litem, that it was in “Amanda’s best interests to attend public school.” The story made national headlines and was, as of November 2009, on appeal to that state’s Supreme Court.
Efforts to remove Judge Thomas Bartheld, an Oklahoma state District Court Judge, started even before the 2010 session began. Media reports of legislators planning his ouster made the news in June 2009 after Judge Bartheld sentenced a man who had pled no contest of raping and sodomizing a 5-year-old girl to 20 years in prison, 19 of which are suspended. The case made national headlines, with Bill O’Reilly mentioning the judge by name on his show seven times. Judge Bartheld, however, noted that “The district attorney, child’s family, advocates and the defendant all agreed to this [plea bargain].”
HR 1065, filed in August 2009 for the 2010 session, asks the Trial Division of the Court on the Judiciary to assume jurisdiction and institute proceedings for the removal of Judge Bartheld from office. Additionally, the same legislator has introduced HJR 1079 granting the state legislature the authority to review, amend, and otherwise change criminal sentences handed down by judges and HJR 1072 allowing the state legislature to impeach District Court Judges like Bartheld. Oklahoma’s current constitutional provision only allows for the impeachment of “the Governor and other elective state officers, including the Justices of the Supreme Court… [and]…Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals.”
A poll conducted in January 2010 by the Tulsa World, however, finds most Oklahomans are unsure of these actions. While 57% find Oklahoma judges are “too lenient” in criminal cases, the state divided 45/46% on whether it should be easier for the state legislature to remove judges.
Judicial Councils vary from state to state, ranging from advisory bodies to formal policy makers and setters. Three states are wrestling with the possibility of eliminating these bodies.
Virginia’s HB 240 would eliminate the Council and transfer its responsibilities to the Supreme Court or the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court (the official title for the state court administrator).
New Hampshire, on the other hand, is seeking to save its Judicial Council. In 2009, the state’s legislature passed as part of its appropriations bill a provision (144:87) automatically ending “all non-regulatory boards, commissions, councils, advisory committees, and task forces in state government created by statute or administrative rule” on June 30, 2011 unless new authorizing legislation was approved. HB 1689 would keep the Judicial Council in operation.
Tennessee’s Judicial Council is facing a similar automatic sunset. Statutorily, the Council expired June 30, 2009 and is currently in its one-year “wind down” phase. HB 1016 and SB 374 would extend it until June 2017 while HB 1102 and SB 373 would grant it only until June 2010. HB 1102 was approved on a 90-5 vote on June 3, 2009 while the Senate version was deferred until 2010.