E-signed and e-delivered, but not e-sealed?

Signed, sealed and delivered is more than a Stevie Wonder song, it represents the attestation of an action or record of a court dating back centuries. Technology, however, has outpaced the days of wax and impressions. For that reason, several state legislatures have had to go back and change the laws of their states to allow their courts more latitude. Legislatures in Oklahoma (HB 2253 of 2004), Iowa (HB 579 of 2009), and Michigan (SB 720 of 2010)  all authorized all courts in their state to e-seal. Texas in 2007 (SB 229) gave its district court the authority to create a seal electronically, thus allowing the courts to transfer, store, and locate documents with greater efficiency.

This year, Nevada enters into the e-seal fray. SB 6 authorizes the electronic reproduction of the seal of a court (current law requires either impressing the seal on the document or impressing the seal on a substance attached to the document). The bill is currently pending in the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

Cross-posted at Court Technology Bulletin blog

IA: Impeachment looming for justices due to same sex marriage decision?

Last month, three of Iowa’s seven justices were unseated in their retention elections, in large part due to the court’s unanimous ruling that the state’s constitution required the legalization of same-sex marriage. Opponents of the three warned and urged the remaining four justices to resign from the bench. At least 3 members of the Iowa House, however, have no inclination to wait and see if the four will in fact step down and have prepared articles of impeachment. (h/t Des Moines Register).

The state’s constitution provides justices and others  “shall be liable to impeachment for any misdemeanor or malfeasance in office” with a simple majority required for impeachment. Conviction in the Senate, however, would require a two-thirds vote.

Iowa is but the latest of states to threaten the impeachment of judges or justices based solely on their decisions. Details can be found in this post as well as a Gavel to Gavel Focus piece from 2007 (located here).

FL: Mandatory e-filing in criminal cases

Earlier in 2010, Gavel to Gavel looked at efforts by state legislatures to mandate more electronic filing of court documents. Much of the focus was on civil cases, however Florida’s Senate is considering a plan to press for criminal case e-filing. SB 170 of 2011 would require prosecutors and public defenders to e-file documents with the clerk of court and report back on March 1, 2012 on the implementation of the program to the legislature.

Cross-posted at Court Technology Bulletin blog

AL: Lobbying to include efforts to obtain judicial branch contracts

Current law in Alabama, indeed in most places, defines lobbying to include efforts to promote or oppose legislation or regulatory action. In all such cases the focus is either on the legislature OR the executive branch OR an administrative agency. Alabama’s Legislature, however, is on the verge of expanding the definition of lobbying to include “promoting or attempting to influence the award of a contract or grant by the executive, legislative, or judicial branch“. According to the latest information from The Birmingham News, the Alabama Senate’s Ethics Committee passed that language as part of HB 11 (Special Session) on Monday.  Due to the addition of an amendment in the Senate, the bill would have to be readopted by the House before submission to the Governor, which could happen as early as next week.

OK: Efforts to impeach/remove trial judge already starting

Readers may recall earlier this year I noted a case involving legislative efforts to remove OK trial judge Thomas Bartheld.

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 1001 of 2011 asks the Trial Division of the Court on the Judiciary to assume jurisdiction and institute proceedings for the removal of Judge Bartheld from office.

House considers “informing” Chief Justice Georgia is not a “democracy”

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.

CO: Legislature asks for Supreme Court opinion on Citizens United

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…”