Oklahoma now in tie with Massachusetts for most legislative efforts to remove judges from office in 2011

I mentioned in March that 2011 was on track to have most efforts to remove judges from office in recent memory with efforts lodged against 10 judges by various state legislatures. Since then Pennsylvania was added (see post here). Now, Oklahoma’s legislature, which already had three such efforts, has added a fourth. HR 1024 petitions the Trial Division of the Court on the Judiciary to assume jurisdiction and institute proceedings for the removal of District Judge Tom Lucas for failing to disqualify himself from hearing cases prosecuted by the Office of the District Attorney of Cleveland County. The ABA Journal and The Oklahoman have a full recap of the events surrounding the DA’s blanket recusal motion (filed under seal) and the judge’s (very public) denial. In short, the DA’s office contends that Lucas is prejudiced against the prosecution in all criminal cases due to an active child molestation investigation in which a member of the judge’s family is involved.

Below is an updated list of pending impeachment/judicial removal efforts:

State Bill Form of removal Target Reason for removal request Status
Massachusetts HB 2172 Bill of address Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland Unknown Pending
Massachusetts HB 2172 Bill of address Supreme Judicial Court Justice Francis X. Spina Unknown Pending
Massachusetts HB 2172 Bill of address Supreme Judicial Court Justice Judith A. Cowin Unknown Pending
Massachusetts HB 2172 Bill of address Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert J. Cordy Unknown Pending
New Hampshire HR 7 Impeachment Marital Master Phillip Cross Decisions in custody/divorce cases Investigation approved by House
New Hampshire HR 7 Impeachment “any justice of the New Hampshire superior court” Decisions in custody/divorce cases Investigation approved by House
New Jersey SR 105 Impeachment Supreme Court Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto Refusal to vote in some cases Request for resignation or impeachment approved by Senate
Oklahoma HR 1001 Request for removal by judicial disciplinary commission District Judge Thomas Bartheld Failure to reject negotiated plea bargain in child sex abuse case Pending
Oklahoma HR 1005 Impeachment request to Congress U.S. District Court Judge Vickie Miles-LaGrange “Abuse of authority” for issuing an injunction against state’s sharia law ban Pending
Oklahoma HR 1006 Request for removal by judicial disciplinary commission District Judge Tammy Bass-LeSure 36 felony counts, including four counts of perjury and 32 counts of fraudulent claim Pending
Oklahoma HR 1024 Request for removal by judicial disciplinary commission District Judge Tom Lucas Denial of blanket recusal motion by DA Pending
Pennsylvania HR 124 Impeachment Court of Common Pleas Judge Willis W. Berry, Jr. Use of his office and judicial secretary for a decade to “assist him in the day-to-day operations concerning his properties.” Pending

Minnesota bill would, among other things, force judges to promise they will remain in office their full term or forfeit 25% of their pensions

I noted an interesting Minnesota combination bill SB 627 (which now has a House companion, HB 1536) which would increase mandatory retirement age for judges but do away with the “incumbent” designation on ballots for judges seeking reelection.

Another interesting combination bill has been introduced, this time in the House, HB 1474.

Section 1 ends the practice of election by district. Instead, judges would be elected from the individual county or judicial election precinct in which they have their chambers within a judicial district, rather than by the district as a whole. For counties/judicial election precincts with no judge currently, the Commission on Judicial Selection would assign a judge.

The remaining sections make a unique linkage between service and retirement.

Under Section 3 of the bill, any judge or justice seeking reelection must file a “commitment in writing” that the justice or judge will serve in the office until:

  1. the mandatory retirement date (changed, see below), or
  2. a newly created “optional retirement date” (see below), or
  3. the disability date, or
  4. appointed to another office of government, or
  5. unable to serve due to a compelling physical or personal reason.

Section 5 then defines a “compelling physical or personal reason”  as “a physical condition that renders the judge unable to perform the duties of judicial office or the need to care for a member of the judge’s immediate family.” The Court of Appeals (and NOT the Supreme Court) would make the determination of whether a “compelling physical or personal reason” exists. Because this bill would apply to all state judge/justices, this could (would?) result in a lower court ruling on the status of a higher court’s membership.

A judge or justice who retires/resigns without that “compelling physical or personal reason” (whether they made the commitment or not, thus covering first-term judges/justices) would forfeit 25% of their retirement annuity. The only exception would be if the judge is appointed to serve on another court, the judge retires due to a disability or the aforementioned “compelling physical or personal reasons”.

Section 4 also addresses resignations/vacancies, providing first that the mere announcement of an intention to resign does not create a judicial vacancy. More critically, the provisions create the title or designation of “placeholder” to refer to anyone appointed by the governor to fill a judicial vacancy. The person would specifically not be “a prior office holder or the successor of a prior office holder,” thus presumably not eligible to have the word “incumbent” next to their name come election time. If a placeholder then dies/resigns and the election is still more than 12 months away, the governor would be free to appoint anyone “learned in the law” and who meets all other criteria for holding judicial office to serve until a successor elected. If the election is less than 12 months away, the office would remain vacant.

Section 6 extends the mandatory retirement date of from the *end of month* in which judge turns 70 to *end of year of a general election* after a judge turns 70, while Section 7 creates an “optional retirement date” of December 31 of a general election year.

HB 1474 is currently in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.

Texas bill would require courts, judicial agencies post “high-value data sets” online

Cross-posted to Court Technology Bulletin.

Novelist and attorney George Higgins once quipped that “Data is what distinguishes the dilettante from the artist.” Whether true or not, the press for data, especially from courts, is an ongoing saga.

Into this comes Texas’ SB 701 of 2011. The bill, as approved on a 31-0 vote of the the Texas Senate last week, would require “state agencies” (which for these purposes include any “board, commission, office, department, or other agency in the…judicial…branch of state government”) to post high-value data sets online. Said “high-value data” must:

  1. be raw data;
  2. in an open standard format that allows the public to search, extract, organize, and analyze the information;
  3. accessible from the the agency’s Internet website home page under a uniform resource locator suffix “data”; and
  4. be not more than two mouse clicks from the agency’s Internet website home page

So, what is a “high-value data set”? According to the bill, it includes any information that meets any of the following criteria:

  1. can be used to increase state agency accountability and responsiveness
  2. improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations
  3. further the core mission of the agency
  4. create economic opportunity
  5. respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation

Explicitly excluded is any information that is confidential or protected from disclosure under state or federal law. But things get even more interesting in the other exceptions. Data need be posted if and only if the “state agency”:

  1. determines that, using existing resources, the agency can post the data set on the Internet website at no additional cost to the state; or
  2. enters into a contract advantageous to the state under which the contractor posts the data set on the Internet website at no additional cost to the state; or
  3. receives a gift or grant specifically for the purpose of posting one or more of the agency’s high-value data sets on the Internet website.

The bill is currently pending in the House but not yet assigned to a committee.

New Hampshire: Jury nullification bill clears House; Senate committee hearing set for April 14

There have been at least three states have debated jury nullification bills this year including Iowa HB 542 and SB 318 and Montana HB 332. So far, only New Hampshire’s HB 146 has progressed (Montana’s bill was tabled after a committee hearing and Iowa’s bills were never taken up).

New Hampshire HB 146, as introduced, provided

In all court proceedings the court shall instruct the jury of its inherent right to judge the law as well as the facts and to nullify any and all actions they find to be unjust. The court is mandated to permit the defendant or counsel for the defendant to explain this right of jury nullification to the jury.

The bill was originally rejected by the House Judiciary Committee in February. However, an amended version was later approved, removing the word “inherent” and rewording the reference to law and facts “mandate” on the court. As amended, it now reads

In all court proceedings the court shall instruct the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relationship to the facts in controversy. The court shall permit the defendant or counsel for the defendant to explain this right to the jury.

Both versions included legislative findings:

Under the decisions of both the New Hampshire supreme court and the United States Supreme Court, the jury has the right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relationship to the facts in controversy [Original version read “has an undeniable right to judge both the law and the facts in controversy” -WER].  The jury system functions at its best when it is fully informed of the jury’s prerogatives.  The general court wishes to perpetuate and reiterate the rights of the jury, as ordained under common law and recognized in the American jurisprudence, while preserving the rights of a criminal defendant, as enumerated in part 1, articles 15 and 20, New Hampshire Bill of Rights, and the Seventh Amendment of the Constitution for the United States of America.

HB 146 was approved, as amended, by the full House in March and is set for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow, April 14.

Florida: Seven House bills affecting courts “special ordered” to the floor for Thursday April 14

The Florida House Rules Committee yesterday specially directed some bills to the House floor, including several that I’ve been tracking lately. Among them:

Additional judiciary related bills potentially up on Thursday as part of the special order include:

  • HB 7023 Repeals provisions relating to regular terms of Supreme Court and circuit courts. Allows Supreme Court to set terms of court for Supreme Court, district courts of appeal, & circuit courts. Provides that appellate courts may withdraw mandate within 120 days after issuance.
  • HB 7113 Repeals provisions relating to restricting practice of law by retired justices, requirement to appoint Clerk of Supreme Court, requirement that clerk have office in Supreme Clerk Building, requirement that clerk perform duties as directed by court, & provision by which rules of court supersede statutes.
  • HB 7115 Repeals provisions relating to judicial census commissions. Until 1973, the Florida Constitution provided for one circuit judge for every 50,000 people in a judicial circuit. The statute related to judicial census commissions is no longer needed because the Constitution has been amended to provide for different method of determining the number of circuit judges.

 

Bans on court use of sharia/international law advance in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma

Welcome New York Times readers!

This post has been updated. Click here.

In the March update (located here) there were 42 bills introduced in 2011 in 20 states seeking to ban court use of sharia/international law. That number is now up to 44 bills in 21 states.

  • Arizona’s “new” bill was really a strike-all amendment to a completely unrelated bill HB 2064. The resulting bill was approved April 7 and is currently sitting on Governor Jan Brewer’s desk.
  • North Carolina HB 640 was introduced April 5 and is currently pending in the House Committee on Judiciary, Subcommittee C.

In addition to Arizona, bills in 6 other states advanced out of their committees or chambers, including Alabama SB 61 and SB 62, Alaska HB 88,  Florida SB 1294, Kansas HB 2087, Missouri HB 708, and Oklahoma HB 1552. Additionally, hearings were conducted in Texas and Missouri. All 2011 activity is in bold below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law advance in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma

Omnibus bills affecting the courts week: 2011

With the notable exception of budget/appropriations bills, most legislation affecting the courts are handled in single subject bills that affect only selection or court jurisdiction or salary, etc. Several states have in the recent past, however, consolidated numerous other bills into one omnibus bill that affects a variety of aspects of the judiciary. This year is no exception, with such bills be introduced in at least 4 states. This week I’ll be looking at each one individually and the various and sundry elements in each.